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Lonely Planet: Slightly Alive

Lonely Planet: Slightly Alive

My first-coffee reading over the past few weeks has been a daily round of wistful memories and farewell group emails from my comrades at Lonely Planet. While Casualty of the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic may be the venerable travel publisher’s epitaph, the truth is more complicated. Some industry insiders (whose ranks include many Lonely Planet authors themselves) believe the company has been on its deathbed for years.

But maybe, just maybe, like Princess Bride’s Westley following his encounter with the Machine of Ultimate Torture, Lonely Planet is only mostly dead.

Follow me then, dear reader, on what may be my final article as Lonely Planet Author Joshua Samuel Brown. Like many of my travels over the past two decades, I’m not exactly sure where I’ll wind up. But I’m aiming for a hopeful place. After all, mostly dead is slightly alive.

The Author’s Credentials

Me, 90 seconds after turning in my first manuscript to Lonely Planet, covered in paperwork gathered during the project.

I started working for Lonely Planet in 2006, authoring or co-authoring a dozen+ guidebooks and contributing at least four times that many articles for the company’s many publications. My time with the company overlapped two changes in ownership (three, counting the interim Wheeler / BBC period from 2007-2011) and several management changes.

Sometime between my second and third books, Lonely Planet went through a ground-shaking management shift as Tony and Maureen Wheeler sold 75% of the company to BBC Worldwide for £88.1 million, or US$133 million. The Wheelers would remain an integral part of the company until February of 2011, when they exercised their option to sell their remaining stake to the BBC.

My pre-BBC merger time with the company was pretty short. Prior to the merger, Lonely Planet was as awesome a company to work for as you’d imagine. In early 2007 I went to Australia to visit some friends and stopped into the famous Lonely Planet compound in Footscray. Despite being a small (and very new) fish in a big pond, I was given a warm welcome, shown around the compound and generally treated like family. I popped into Tony Wheeler’s office, and was gratified to see that the book I’d given him the year before had earned a spot in the company library. (Click here for the full scoop on how I landed my first Lonely Planet gig, if you want to go down that rabbit hole.)

My Lonely Planet Salad Days

A Lonely Planet Party I attended, Melbourne 2010

People who’d been with the company longer than I have their own impression, but for me the BBC years were my Lonely Planet salad days. I returned to Taiwan, Singapore and Belize for more guidebook updates, as well as spending a month in China covering Yunnan province for what to this day remains among my most memorable LP trips (at least if the number of blog posts I churned out on that trip is an indicator).

Working for Lonely Planet was the ultimate remote gig. Outside of a few visits to various LP offices, a holiday party in Oakland I happened to be in town for and several sweet hangs with fellow LP people I was either working on projects with or ran into on the road, 99% of my interaction with editors, management and fellow writers were via email. From what I could tell, merger-years Lonely Planet blended the best aspects of English efficiency and Aussie laid back-ness (with bits and bobs of attitude and methodology from around the world thrown in, as befits a publishing company covering literally the whole planet).

Authors were largely free agents, working from contract to contract. Some of us had certain areas of specialty, and worked within the same pool of editors, authors and managers on multiple projects. Some authors were superstars, traveling the planet updating titles on multiple continents based on publishing schedules worked out well in advance via managerial alchemy designed to continually produce updated titles for destinations both on the rise and more niche. In general, all authors would pitch their services to editors in charge of various projects, with the editors making their decision based on multiple criteria including the author’s previous projects, their reputation for turning in good copy, contacts and experience in the target area and, of course, previous work on that specific title. In general, an author who’d done a good job on a title previously (and/or had a good working relationship with the editor to whom they were pitching) could expect favorable response to their pitch. I built working relationships with a few editors, and had a reputation as a highly dependable (though mildly quirky) author who turned in clean copy and didn’t miss deadlines. My geographical specialties were Taiwan, Belize, Singapore and China, so I worked with editors and writers who covered those areas, developing a camaraderie along the way which generally made things easier and more efficient.

Photos from various guidebook trips for Lonely Planet in Asia and Central America, 2008-2013.

My last guidebook project with Lonely Planet had me in Belize from November, 2012 until March 2013. It was my fourth trip around Belize, and my first time doing the book solo, so spending a whole season in Belize felt like a good idea. And here’s where the story gets weird.


In 2013 Lonely Planet again changed hands.

That BBC sold off Lonely Planet was more of a surprise to some than to others. There had been some ingratiation issues between old guard LP and new BBC hires, and some differences in opinion about how to incorporate a rapidly changing digital landscape into an old-school publishing business. But what surprised everyone I knew was the price (BBC wound up unloading LP for a paltry US$75 million, way less than what they’d paid the Wheelers for the company without even taking into account subsequent years of investment) and the purchaser, a previously unknown company called NC2 Media owned by  an American billionaire named Brad Kelley, who’d made his fortune in the tobacco industry.

This article from CNN managed to take a fairly neutral view while still painting a picture of the unusual pairing in its title:

BBC sells Lonely Planet to U.S. cigarette billionaire: A reclusive American land owner and conservationist will take over the Lonely Planet brand — but what’s he going to do with it? 

A lifelong consumer of British TV, I’d been happy to be working for a company that was part of the BBC family. Our new boss had earned billions getting poor people hooked on cheap tobacco, which caused me to make assumptions about his general ethos and worldview. By and large, my friends in the Lonely Planet author community’s feelings about the new management ranged from wary to deeply pessimistic.

The acquisition occupied a few news cycles, during which several LP authors were hit up for quotes by journalists from various noteworthy publications. This led to a directive through the usual internal channels that any further comments to media needed to be vetted with management. The overly ham-fisted tone seemed to confirm concerns among the authors that the new boss would be taking a distinctly more authoritarian approach to management than had previous management.

By this point social media (In its infancy when the Wheelers sold) was now a huge thing, and innocent enough things like hash-tag campaigns commemorating the Planet that was (#LPMEMORIES) were drawing enough ire from management to make authors wishing to stay with the company reconsider taking part. I’d already decided to take a few years away from travel (having lived the life of a fairly dedicated travel writer since before coming on board), I didn’t see myself doing any guidebooks for Lonely Planet until the next Belize update a few years down the road. But like other authors, I didn’t feel passionately enough about the issue to risk burning bridges with our beloved but swiftly tilting Planet. It’s probably for the best that I wasn’t asked for a quote, because if anyone had asked I’d have offered the following vaguely leftist analogy:

“Dr. Bronner’s Acquired by Dr. Phil*

*Dr. Bronner’s is a soap company started by a socially conscious eccentric. Dr. Phil is a conservative Republican TV psychologist. And this is why I’m rarely asked for quotes…

Following the purchase, the company was quickly restructured. Old-guard editors who’d come from the Wheeler’s LP and survived various culling phases of the BBC partnership were mostly excised. While small crews worked from offices around the globe (including London, Dublin and Melbourne), a new head office was built in Franklin, Tennessee, a bucolic suburb of Nashville. While some editors and employees took offers to continue working for Lonely Planet at the new location, for many the prospect of relocating from urban centers like London, Melbourne and the Bay Area to a town located on the edges of America’s deep south proved a bridge too far.

With the company restructured and with many of the old editors replaced, many long-standing author-editor relationships evaporated. If management cared little about the dissolution of these relationships, they cared less about the feelings of longtime Lonely Planet authors. Within a year of the NC2 buyout, management announced that, moving forward, authors would be known as writers, with the change in title being applied everywhere from online forums to business cards. With everything else going on this seemingly minor alteration in nomenclature struck many as yet another way for new management to make clear their opinion that authors (now writers), once a critical part of the guidebook process, were an easily replaced cog in an increasingly indifferent machine.     

I continued writing articles for Lonely Planet throughout the NC2 years, all in response to regular calls for pitches from editors in newly restructured editing teams. Some lovely books got made, and I had fun pitching articles that generally fell into either the category of Best In Food or Bucket List Places.

Some of  the Lonely Planet titles I contributed to during the NC2 years.

 Though Lonely Planet was no longer my main source of income, I was still proud to be a small part of a company that only resembled the one I’d started at a decade earlier if you didn’t look at it too long.

Money, Politics and Other Dirty Words

Being the planet’s top travel authority is inherently political. Travelers bring money, and money brings influence. During the Wheeler years, Lonely Planet did its best to present a largely neutral editorial tone in the face of political pressure. Probably the best example of this was the company’s decision to publish its Burma title despite calls by some (both in and out of Burma) for a tourism boycott. The decision was based on the ethic that travel could be used as a force for good, and that travelers needed to be informed enough to make their own choices. This tradition of remaining beholden to no one nation or political group but to the planet as a whole and the needs of travelers in particular largely continued during the BBC years.

From my perspective, this neutrality evaporated following the NC2 acquisition.

Best in Travel, 2015. My contribution that year was on Belize’s Deep South, y’all.

Of the many non-guidebook titles released by Lonely Planet, the most important is the annual Best In Travel book, where writers and editors offer their choices for must-visit places for the coming year. I’d done a write-up for Belize in the previous edition, so I submitted Taiwan for the 2016 edition. It’s a competitive list, and Taiwan can be a touchy subject, so I was surprised to get an acceptance letter asking me to write up the entry. I wrote up 400 words, couching the thing in the language of strategic ambiguity often employed by the Taiwanese government itself.

I was surprised that they accepted it in the first place, so I’m not really sure why I was surprised to hear from one of the sub-editors that they’d decided to replace Taiwan with another entry pretty close to publishing time. The sub-editor alluded to issues with printers in China, but didn’t give me anything specific. I called the Destination Editor in charge of the region, and we had a short and strategically ambiguous conversation in which she gave no specific reason for the last-minute omission and I didn’t specifically accuse Lonely Planet of throwing Taiwan under the bus to appease China.

The only certainty I got from the conversation (outside of an assurance I’d be paid for my work) was a strong feeling that pushing the issue any further would lead to my losing any shot at future assignments from the editor now in charge of the region where I’d spent half my career as a travel writer.

This caused me a few days of the dark tea-time of the soul variety. Fair play for all had long been a cherished Lonely Planet value, and I thought about writing an article that might gently shame the company into changing course before coming to the conclusion that letting it go was the best course of action. Doing so would allow me to continue getting stories about Taiwan into various (if less prestigious) Lonely Planet projects, thus continuing to support Taiwan’s various ongoing cultural diplomacy initiatives.

I wrote a few more articles for Lonely Planet and kept including pitches about Taiwan where appropriate. In 2017, another editor picked an article I’d pitched about Taiwan’s emerging coffee scene for a World’s Best Coffee book. Three weeks after submission I got a letter from an LP staffer stating unambiguously that the company had bowed to pressure from China to keep Taiwan from being included in the book.

“We have it booked in with a Chinese printer and our production editor has said that they will refuse to print the book if Taiwan is listed as one of the countries in the contents list.”

Though I wound up editing the text I’d written for Lonely Planet into a longer Taiwan coffee story for another magazine, it was clear to me that Lonely Planet’s days as an impartial gatekeeper in global travel was over. When the company dropped all pretenses of neutrality a couple of years later with their controversial decision to create sponsored content for the Saudi Arabian government, I didn’t bother feigning surprise.

Lonely Planet: A New Hope

Another day in quarantine, mid-May 2020 brings another round of wistful farewells from outgoing Lonely Planet employees, their centuries of cumulative talent, experience and brand loyalty being scattered to the four winds by their soon-to-be erstwhile employer.

But there is hope, if we squint enough to spot it.

Bored Billionaire Seeks Buyer for Legacy Travel Publisher?

Brad Kelley’s original motives in purchasing Lonely Planet remain a mystery. Articles about Mr. Kelley often refer to him as a reclusive billionaire. To summarize from his Wikipedia page, he’s worth two billion dollars (give or take) and, despite having made his fortune in the tobacco industry, is an ardent non-smoker. He’s also said to be a dedicated conservationist and equestrian. But even in 2013 (at fire-sale prices) purchasing a travel publishing company couldn’t have just been about the money.

One part of the Lonely Planet / NC2 timeline that bears mention is Mr. Kelley’s making a 24 year-old fresh college graduate named  Daniel Houghton Lonely Planet CEO, a decision which struck many as a bit too close for comfort to the plot of 1994’s The Hudsucker Proxy. Though Houghton has since retired (at the tender age of 27), the theory that rapid elevation to CEO of one the planet’s largest travel publishing company was the whimsical decision of a boredom-prone billionaire is as good a theory as you’re going to get from me. And this bored billionaire theory gives me hope.

If Mr. Kelley is still bored owning a company whose future profitability is murky at best, it stands to reason that he might be interested in selling it at a reasonable market price. All we need do then is help locate a single billionaire (or a consortium of reasonably wealthy celebrities) looking for the undeniable coolness cachet that would come from owning Lonely Planet.

That the new owner would be able to hit the ground running by re-hiring an easily assembled crew of talented, well-traveled authors, editors and cartographers with fanatical brand loyalty is icing on the cake.

Here then is, in no particular order, an incomplete list of people who’d be welcome to fill in the blank of my nearly-done article’s final subhead:

Lonely Planet Purchased by ______________________

Because obviously the news would be released via an old-time-y newspaper headline…

  • Elon Musk: Billionaire, philanthropist, playboy, and, oh yeah, CEO of a company looking to expand mankind’s travel opportunities throughout the solar system. (Dibs on research for the first edition of Lonely Planet’s Guide to Titan.)
  • Bono: Nobody’s every accused singer-songwriter-venture capitalist of playing it safe. As of this writing, Lonely Planet’s  Dublin office is still open, and I’m sure everyone there (if anyone is still there) would be happy to let Bono kick the tires (so to speak) if he’d like to pop by.
  • Enya: She’s creative, rich, and definitely well known for her love of privacy. The LP team has become accustomed to working for a reclusive boss. Our passports are ready, Enya. Let’s sail away…
  • JK Rowling: What does the world’s wealthiest writer know about running a travel publishing company? I have no idea, but from what I can tell she’s pretty damned meticulous when it comes to planning her stories. I’m sure any of us would be glad to call this fellow creative our new boss.
  • Richard Branson: Internationalist, travel dude and well-known cool guy to work for, I’d be happy to call Richard Branson boss. Not sure what the asking price of the company would be, but I’m pretty sure Sir Richard can scrape it up.
  • Michael Palin: A few years before I came on board with Lonely Planet I was on an assignment in Yunnan, China, where I wound up working for three days with Michael Palin and his production company on his Himalaya project. At one point I got to translate for Mr. Palin as he sang The Lumberjack Song and Bright Side of Life to a group of bemused tribesman in Lake Lugu. Can Sir Michael afford to buy Lonely Planet? It hardly matters. The man is universally beloved and can probably ask the Queen to buy it for him.
  • Ewan McGregor: I have no idea if Scottish actor has the time, money or inclination to run Lonely Planet, but he’s a known travel fanatic and I’d love to work for him. Perhaps he and Sir Michael can go in on it together?
  • Cindy Gallop: OK, this was a suggestion from my partner, Stephanie Huffman, who assured me that Ms. Gallop would be an ideal owner for Lonely Planet with the quote “She’s revolutionizing the sex industry. Think what she could do for the travel industry.” After five minutes at Cindy Gallop’s website I’m totally on board.

The above list of course is incomplete, and I’m sure travel-industry friends and colleagues (or anyone else with skin in the game) might have other ideas for super-cool celebrities, billionaires or moneyed eccentrics with a passion for travel who might be interested in purchasing Lonely Planet. Circulate this article far and wide, travel friends! A new world is emerging from the old, and we’ll need guidebooks to navigate this perpetually changing, no less lonely landscape.

Me, same pose in 2013, covered with various books and other work I’d done for Lonely Planet since the first picture.

Thanks to Fodey.com for their very cool newspaper headline generator. 

How I landed my first Lonely Planet gig

People often ask me how I landed my first Lonely Planet gig. I haven’t done a guidebook for the company in a few years, but I still contribute pretty regularly to what are known in the industry as T&R, or Trade and Reference books, stuff like Best in Travel and Best in Food, that sort of thing.

Trade Books like these…

So while I more-or-less consider myself a former guidebook writer, writing guidebooks for Lonely Planet was a pretty big part of my professional output for a good chunk of years, and the story of how I got my first Lonely Planet gig seems like it’d make a good blog post – especially in light of a file I just discovered while going through a long-forgotten hard drive.

In 2005, I was living on Lamma Island, Hong Kong, working as a freelance contributor for a bunch of magazines and newspapers in HK and China, including the South China Morning Post, the HK Weekly Standard and a few others. (Long story short, Taiwan was considered a pretty niche destination back then, so I couldn’t sell enough stories about Taiwan to make a living as a freelance writer.)

But my heart was still in Taiwan, and so I pitched what would become my first book, Vignettes of Taiwan to a publisher I’d been writing for pretty regularly since 2001. The publisher – ThingsAsian Press – took me up on the offer, and the next year, VOT was published.

The book I foisted upon Tony Wheeler that landed me the gig.

About a month after the book came out, my publisher at Things Asian Press told me about a book fair that was happening in town, so I grabbed a dozen copies of Vignettes of Taiwan and headed in. One of the speakers was Tony Wheeler, who had started Lonely Planet with his wife Maureen.

Being a brash young man, I approached Mr. Wheeler and handed him a copy of Vignettes of Taiwan along with a business card and comment along the lines of “Imagine what I could do with your next Lonely Planet Taiwan Guide.”

Mr. Wheeler was nicer about it than he needed to be, thanked me for the book and told me that if he liked it somebody from the office would contact me.

A few weeks later, I got an email from a woman named Marina at the LP office in Melbourne informing me that Tony Wheeler had liked my book, and that if I was interested in submitting a sample guidebook chapter the company would consider me for the upcoming Taiwan guide.

Did I respond to this kind offer with an enthusiastic All Right! What’s my next step?

No, I did not.

Instead, I hit reply and wrote something like “How do I know that Lonely Planet isn’t going to just use my sample chapter for some upcoming book?”

Because in addition to being a brash young man, I was also a suspicious young man. And I had the idea that Lonely Planet’s business model might somehow include getting a bunch of sample chapters for free from perspective authors and cobbling these into actual functioning guidebooks.

The author, circa 2006

Marina, who really would have been well within her rights to just delete my email unanswered, instead responded with something like “Do it and the world will be your Lonely Planet oyster!” She attached a template for the project and wished me well.

I don’t have the actual email anymore, but I definitely remember the line “The world will by your Lonely Planet oyster!”

So I did.

I grabbed a then-recent Lonely Planet guide and headed up to Shekou, a neighborhood in Shenzhen, China, and pretty much used it as a guideline to do my own sample chapter to Shekou. I turned it in, and a few weeks later, Marina wrote me back to tell me I’d made the cut (though my mapping skills could use some improvement), and to offer me my first gig with the company, updating the upcoming Lonely Planet Taiwan book.

That was in 2006, and for the next seven years, yeah…the world was pretty much my Lonely Planet oyster. Belize, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, back to China, back to Belize, back to Singapore, and so forth.

Joshua Samuel Brown naked beneath a pile of books hes written.
Me, naked beneath a pile of books I’ve written or otherwise worked on.
The world was indeed my Lonely Planet Oyster.

Anyway, back to the long-lost hard drive. I was going through said item yesterday, and came across a file called “Lonely Planet Shekou.” And while I’ve told the story about pressing a copy of Vignettes of Taiwan into Tony Wheeler’s hands many times, I’d apparently completely forgotten about doing the sample chapter, because my first thought on finding the file was I never did anything in that part of China for Lonely Planet. So I opened up the file and checked it out.

Definitely a freshman attempt at guidebook writing, to be sure. But since I had fun reading it, maybe you will too, so I’ll paste it below in all its virgin guidebook-writer glory.

I wouldn’t advise trying to get anything useful from it, though – China changes super fast, and I doubt anything I wrote about in Shekou in 2006 is even relevant. Still, I think it offers a decent insight into what goes into being a guidebook writer, or at least what went into hiring one in 2006. (Things have no doubt changed since then.)

(I’m particularly proud of having described Shekou as
“A peninsular nipple on Shenzhen’s ever-expanding underbelly” )

Anyway, read further or not, as you like. Bold text is from original template. Mistakes are all my own. If you like reading stuff like this, go buy my book How Not to Avoid Jet Lag and Other Tales of Travel Madness.

Somewhere in a box in my father’s garage is the map I drew with colored pencil and crayon. If I ever find it, I’ll post it here.

How do I get a job with Lonely Planet?
The author as a brash young man, somewhere in China


General description of the town (or area within a city) and its attractions, plus any other info of interest. Should be punchy enough to make people want to visit (without sounding like a tourist brochure).

Shining with a playfullyseductive and only slightly jaded light, Penisualr Shekou (translation: “Snake Mouth”) dangles off Shenzhen’s southern coast.   For those entering China via ferry from Hong Kong – a wise move as the port border is a line-free love fest compared to mad crush of the Lo Wu / HK crossing –  Shekou is gateway to the get rich or die trying metropolis that itself is the jewel of the hyper-capatalist Pearl River Delta  

If Shenzen is a yang monolithic glass and concrete statement to the righness of Chairman Deng’s maxim “to get rich is glorious,” then Shekou – the petri dish in which modern chinese capatalism was created – is a more Yin seaside district offering the following sly adendum to Deng’s words:

“…But  have a good time along the way.”


Brief but informative and lively history of the town/neighbourhood.

Though Shekou’s history as an inhabited area dates into the Neolithic era (according to archeological evidence anyway), most of this was spent as a sleepy  backwater harbor community overshadowed by more important neighbors.  Exciting moments over the centuries have been few and far between. Legend has it that during the Late Song  dynasty a powerful celestial goddess descended on the site of the present-day Tian Hou temple, and during the opium wars the area again saw some action as Chinese generals used the peninsula as a base from which to harass enemy ships.  But for the most part, history passed quietly around Shekou.  All this changed in 1978, when Deng Xiaoping chose this small nub of real estate as a petri dish in which to germinate the earliest seeds of post-revolutionary capitalism in China, allowing for the first time since 1949 foreign owned companies to set up shop on Chinese soul.  

Once barren hills overlooking the harbor were transformed into the Shekou Industrial Zone, from which “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” quickly sprung forth, quickly growing to encompass greater Shenzhen in the early 1980’s.  Today, with the entire Pearl River Delta region arguably the main economic engine fueling a capitalist China whose market economy Chairman Mao couldn’t even begin to imagine, Shekou has settled into a somewhat more relaxed stretch of harbor front property.


Information to give travellers their bearings in the town/neighbourhood.

Shekou is an easy place in which to get around. The heart of the neighborhood is Seaworld Plaza, a brick-paved pedestrian mall stretching south from Xinghua road to an extremely difficult to miss five story high cruise ship moored in concrete approximately a quarter-mile from where the harbor itself begins. North of Seaworld plaza are some lovely hills for light hiking, and east of the plaza lies a somewhat rundown residential and commercial district where most habitues of the more upscale businesses of Seaworld Plaza seldom venture.  Three blocks east of Seaworld Plaza is the Shekou Ferry terminal, from which boats to Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai leave many times daily, and in front of this terminal is the bus station..


Give details of useful sources for travellers ie the tourist info centre, post office, availability of banks, Internet cafes, emergency medical facilities. This should be provided in list format in alphabetical order and comments added if needed. Note that details given after the practical info in brackets should start with a new sentence (not run on from the heading). Include phone numbers and addresses in brackets. 

Bus Station

Located in front of the Shekou Passanger Terminal, the Shekou Bus Station has local busses leading to destainations throughout Shenzhen

Ferry Terminal [2558 8588]

The Shekou Passenger Terminal is an customs crossing point for daily ferries leading to Hong Kong, Kowloon, HK Airport, and Macau. Landing visas are available here with restrictions based on nationality. The terminal also services passenger ferries to Zhuhai.

Internet Café

While the neighborhood lacks an interet café, the Haitao Hotel [No.8 Gong Ye 1st road, one block east of the ferry terminal] has a lobby café with a free internet-ready terminal. Meal or beverage purchase is required for use.


Post Office

Tourist Information


Describe at least three main sights or attractions and give the following practical info (if applicable) in brackets: phone number, address, entry fee, opening hours. 

Seaworld Plaza

The undisputed heart of Shekou, this brick pedestrian mall is lined with restaurants of varying  ethnicities, coffee shops ranging from kitsch to corportate,  and  more bars than you can shake a stick at, all overlooked by the Minghua, a perpetually docked ocean liner-cum-tourist magnet from which Seaworld gets much of its nautical bragging rights.  The wide, car free mall is a prime spot for people watching, peopled by expatriates of all stripes, tourists from around China, and – increasingly – locals flexing their newfound buying power.  On weekends and holidays Seaworld Plaza takes on a carnival like vibe as it fills with artists painting portraits, merchants selling kites (for flying in the nearby park) and a wide variety of other trinkets and gimcracks.  And in the evenings, the plaza is the center of one one of Shekou’s most happeing bar scenes.

The Minghua

In the center of the Seaworld Plaza sits the Minghua, a former French ocean liner that’s been moored in concrete and transformed into the area’s biggest tourist draw. While the lion’s share of the interior has been transformed into the Cruise Inn, a campy botique hotel, the exterior decks (accessable by gangplanks, manned naturally by sailor-suit clad staff) are open to the public and offer a number of bars and eateries. Naturally the decks have views of the harbor – its that blue bit about a quarrter mile to the south, just over the mini-mall and golf-driving range (themselves built on land reclaimed from the sea).  The Minghua is cool in that quirky sort of way that only a completely incogrious juxtaposition (like an ocean liner surrounded on all sides by land) can be. If you like ships but hate the ocean (or just like microbrew – see our bar listings below), the Minghua is a must-visit.

[Seaworld Plaza, public decks open 4:30 PM – Midnight]

Tian Hou Temple

Shekou’s Tian Hou Temple is a cultural oasis in a town not overly reknowned for its culture, and a spiritual outpost in a city where dollar (or Yuan) worship is the overriding relegion. This 200 year old temple complex honors Matsu, godess of the sea, whose sphere of infulence is chiefly the protection of sailors and fisherman (and presumably the off-shore oil drillers who make their livings nearby).  The temple was built on a hilly spot where the celestial godess herself was said to have visited during the Song Dynasty. Since the early eighties an industrial zone has grown around the temple, and on some days the shipping containers across the road are higher than the temple’s tiled roof. But save for the greying of the blue roof times in the ambiant pollution ubiqious to the area, little inside the complex has changed. Lay worshippers – particularly those who make their living on the sea – place incense in gigantic copper braziers outside the main temple before stepping inside for prayer, and tourists (refreshingly low in numbers) come to visit the temple and the small attached museum documenting the nautical history of the area.  One wing of the museum is filled with statues and other works of art dedicated to the sea goddess, as well as antiques and other objects of art belonging to a bygone age.  The temple offers one peculiar service – for a nominal fee of Y20, worshippers can scribe a wish or prayer onto the interior of a curved clay tile. The tile is then placed on the roof of the temple, where presumably Matsu will be better able to judge the merits of the beseechments.

Common prayers include bessechments for the godess to halt typhoons, or to direct the tides in a way that carry seaborne trash away from high value beachside property.

[#6 Chiwan road][Ph: 26853219][Y15 admission]


If applicable to the place you’re covering, review activities of interest to travellers and include the following practical info in brackets: phone number, address, cost.

Note that Sleeping/Eating/Drinking/Entertainment/Shopping sections feature stand-alone reviews with the first full sentence beginning after the practical information in brackets (see a recent Lonely Planet guide for examples).

Probably the singlemost commonly engaged in activity in Shekou is hanging out at Seaworld Plaza, followed closely by either eating or drinking (or some combination therof). However, the hills to the north of the plaza offer decent hiking activites, as do the hills surrounding the Evergreen Resort. And if practicing your golf swing in the shadow of an ocean liner appeals to you (and really, how many places offer the opportunity), there is a fine golfing range behind the Minghua.

Golfing Range




Review at least three accommodation places that travellers might use, and give the following practical info in brackets: phone number, Web site (if applicable), address, cost per night for singles/doubles (use abbreviations ‘s’ and ‘d’ instead of singles and doubles). 

The Evergreen Resort 

[2664 6988 / 2640 3988] [1 Quingqing St, Moonbay] [SY680 DY780 / Y880] [comment – this place has a variety of different rooms / prices – it doesn’t quite fit in with the “singles / doubles” format. I don’t know how you deal with this. I mention the smurf houses, which are the cheapest of the accomadations.]

Fans of Taiwanese mountain resorts will feel right at home at the Evergreen resort, a sprawling resort complex opened in 1995  by Lin Mei Kuang, a Taiwanese architect whose prior projects included a similar spa resort at Taiwan’s beloved Yaming Mountain.  Though the rocky hills surrounding Shekou are a far cry from the lush green mountains of Isle Formosa, the Evergreen’s heavy use of naturalistic structural design and organic building give it a serious mountain resort vibe.  Evergreen guests have their choice of standard rooms with ocean views in a traditionally-shaped hote, rustic redwood cabins with gorgeous hardwood floors, futons, and bathrooms with neck deep Japanese style tubs, or of smaller “tree house” structures that vaguely resemble smurf homes. Prices are incredibly reasonable, and a night at the Evergreen can cost as little as RMB 280, which includes the use of the facilities, which include swimming pools, exercise rooms, teahouses, an enclosed butterfly pavilion, and even a small tropical rainforest, complete with trees and flora transplanted from around SE Asia.

Cruise Inn

[0755/2682-5555][ Minghua Ship, Sea World Plaza] [SY680 DY780 / Y880]

Take two parts nautical whimsy, add one part Alice in Wonderland. Top with stained glass ceilings and serve on pearlescent tiled floorsand you’ve got the Cruise Inn, Shekou’s newest (and among China’s strangest) hotel. The Cruise Inn takes up much of the interior of the permanantly landlocked and docked Minghua, the ship that is Seaworld Plaza’s central feature. Accomadations are as interesting as the lobby décor. The “Romantic Seaview” does have a waterbed and harborview, though the presence of a driving range between ship and sea dispels the illustion somewhat.  The captains suite looks out over bar street, and has two plasma screen televisions and a Jacuzzi. Standard rooms are clean, comfortable and, naturally, nautically themed.  

The Nanhai

[1 Gongye Yilu, next to ferry terminal] [2669–2888][1,560 – Hillview Room, 1,800 Seaview]

[comment – this is how rooms are listed here rather than as singles or doubles; also, discounts are available. I’m not sure how you list this.]

The oldest luxury hotel in the area, the Nanhai’s space-age exterior – rounded balconies that look as if they might detach from the mother ship at any moment face out into the harbor. The Nanhai has undergone extensive renovation in the last year, as reflected by the increased room rates (among the highest in the area). Still, if you want to stay in a luxury hotel of moderate class (the brochure calls it a five star, but we think this might be a bit of an exageration) with  a lobby piano bar and attractive seaview rooms, this might be the place for you.


Review at least three good eateries, and give the following practical info in brackets: phone number, address, average cost of main course, meals open for ie breakfast, lunch, dinner and days closed if any.



[26835678] [First Floor of Seaworld Hotel, Taizhi Road, across from Seaworld Plaza] [Y40] [lunch & dinner only]

Foodfeast is the only restaurant in Shekuo offering genuine Hakka (ke jia) Cuisine, and is thus appropriately named as members of the Hakka clan are reknowned for their love of feasting. Specialties include (get some names). Foodfeast is also the only restaurant in town serving freshly made durian pancakes (delectable to aficionados, but potentially nausiating to those not endeared to the smelly “king of fruits.” ).  If you’re in Shekou and sick of foreign fare, you can’t get better down home cuisine than what you’ll find at a ke jia ren, or “Guest Home People” restaurant – after all, “home” is a Hakka’s middle name.

The Paris French Kiss

[2688 0317][57/58 Seaworld Plaza][lunch and dinner][Y90]

High ceilings and curvacious columns give this restaurant (located in front of the good ship Minghua) a Napoleanic feel.  Fare is european, and lunch specials are an especially good bargain, as for Y68 you’ll get a large main course, soup or salad, fresh brewed coffee, and a choice of crème brule or choclate mousse to top it off.

Drinking, Entertainment (with a nautical theme).

Review at least one drinking venue that travellers might visit, and give the following practical info in brackets: phone number, address. If there is only one drinking venue it can just be listed under Entertainment.

Having long ago fullfilled its original purpose as post-revolutionary petri dish of Chinese capatalism, Shekou has settled into a more mellow groove as Shenzhen’s entertainment pavillion.  The hub of this is the nautically flavored Seaworld Plaza, a brick-paved pedestrian mall lined on either side with restaurants ranging from fast-food (the uniquious Mcdonalds and Starbucks) to cheesy theme restaurants (like XXX, a Brazillian Barbeque where meat is carved right of the spits by waitstaff dressed in full gaucho regalia). Seaworld plaza is the place to see and be seen, both for local expats working cushy jobs in the offices of nearby foreign owned companies and for local Chinese basking in the glory of their newfound middle class status.

Exepting perhaps the view from the roofs of any of these establishments, from nowhere in Seaworld plaza can the sea actually be seen. Seaworld’s moniker comes not from any ocean (or harbor) view, but from the Minghua, a (get size) ship planted smack dab on the Plaza’s (X) end.

Though it presumably once led a life more common to seagoing vessels (i.e., going somewhere on the sea), today the good ship Minghua is thorougly landlocked, floating in a stretch of open water that surrounds the ship’s hull in all directions for about 20 feet before ending in reclaimed landfill.

The Minghua’s multi-leveleled decks have been transformed into a series of outdoor bars and dance clubs, all of which are open and thumping from dusk into the late-late.  The interior of the Minghua has been turned into a the Cruise Inn, a strange and whimsical budget Inn that

Mixes two parts nautical theme with one part Alice in Wonderland to create perhspas Shenzhen’s most tripped-out hotel

With the good ship Minghua as the hub, the entertainment complex of Seaworld Plaza extends in all directions; between ship and sea is a driving range built on reclaimed harbor landfill, making the Minghua perhaps the only ship on the planet from which one can watch revelers on a pedestrian mall from a (term)side porthole and golfers from a (term)side one.  GET GOLF INFORMATION.

To the (x) the mall extends further, offering more clubs, bars and restaurants. To the X, it becomes X park, several acres of harborfront greenery with open fields, quiet paths, and a considerably more sedate revelers.  Offering the best ground-level view of Shekou harbor, this area becomes extremely crowded with revelers and pickpockets during any festival in which firework displays are involved.

Though wealth may have smoothed her rougher edges, Shekou is still a harbor town,  Further south between Seaworld Plaza and the passenger terminal stretches Taizi road, where the gentrified nautical kitch of the plaza melts away to reveal Shekou’s seedier side. Though most of the bars on this street are clearly designed with providing a place for sex workers (many of whom, thanks to the tremendous local economic boom, are actually from the Philipines) to meet and negotiate with customers. There is, however, one noteowrthy exception.

“X-TA-SEA,” according to the bar’s western owner “is not a cheap clip joint for picking up tarts.”  Indeed, with its 100 inch flat screen TV with satellite sports channells on demand, regulation style American pool and foosball tables, X-TA-SEA fills a red-light district’s ecological niche, namely a place to drink and gamble without having to be tempted by more sordid sins of the flesh. X-TA-SEA

No. 2A Taizi Road, Behind Yin Bing Building,

Shekou, Shenzhen

136 9192 2585 2866-7649


If applicable, review at least two interesting shops that travellers might visit and give the following practical info in brackets: phone number, address, opening hours.

Though more of shipping than shopping hub, visitors looking to come away from their visit with more than pictures of Matsu or a hangover will have ample opportunity to obtain trinkets at the newly opened mini-mall

Getting There & Away

A penisular nipple on Shenzhen’s ever-expanding underbelly, Shekou is easily reached by boat, bus or taxi. Alas, the new and much touted Shenzehn Metro does not extend to Shekou, ending halfway from the Lo Wu border crossing at the Windows of the World Metro station. All the more reason to take the ferry if you’re coming from Hong Kong, as the boat comes directly to Shekou 13 times a day. Coming from the Shenzen Train Station, the fastest way it to hop a cab for about Y60. Or you could take the metro halfway and grab any number of busses which will let you off in front of the Shekou Passenger terminal. There are also eight boats a day to and from the HK Airport.

Getting Around

Give details on the main transport modes around town, location, frequency and cost etc.

Fairly compact, Shekou is an easy neighborhood in which to get around.  It’s a quick walk from the ferry terminal to Seaworld Plaza. The only places in Shekou that really require taxis are the Matsu temple and the Evergreen Resort.


How Not to Avoid Jet Lag

Nineteen tales ranging from new journalism to exotic hallucination.

Click here for the Kindle Version (Amazon)

Click Here for all other E-book formats. (Smashwords)

How Not to Avoid Jet Lag Nineteen stories from the increasingly deranged mind of travel Writer Joshua Samuel Brown, with illustrations by David Lee Ingersoll.

“I’ve often thought that guidebook writing attracts the mad, the bad and the slightly crazed. If he didn’t start that way – perhaps a pre-writing career as a bike messenger helped – his years on the road have certainly contributed to Joshua’s off-kilter take on the world.”
 – Tony Wheeler, Lonely Planet Co-founder.

The unique aspect of How Not to Avoid Jet Lag… is the almost psychedelic feel to several of the narratives without clarification of what’s real and what’s not. For instance, in the story “The Worst Place in the World”, the author describes a trip to IKEA as “Distortion of the time/space continuum coupled with an overwhelming sense of despair as everyday items take on strange, menacing dimensions and reality becomes a grotesquely exaggerated nightmare from which only the passage of time offers release.” His “reality” becomes progressively more distorted and reminiscent of scenes from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Hayley Swinson, www.savvygirltravel.com


Click here to read more reviews at Amazon.com

Among the illustrated tales of travel writing, new journalism and straight up hallucination you’ll find in How Not to Avoid Jet Lag & Other Tales of Travel Madness are:

  • My Parents Are Little People, a story of the bizarre lengths a travel writer will go in pursuit of a hotel review;
  • Supper in Uyghurville, a gritty tale of menace, drugs and journalism from Beijing’s darkest hutong;
  • The Milky Teat of Serendipity, a hallucinatory flight of fancy featuring Singaporean Prime Ministers, Taiwanese presidents and a wandering goat-milk salesgirl;
  • The Worst Place in the World, strong contender for the “Travel story most likely to garner a cease and desist letter from Ikea” award.

Buy the Kindle Version (Amazon)

Click Here for all other E-book formats. (Smashwords)