Picks and Pans Main: Video

updated 11/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/06/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Tourists who travel by the Fodor's book can now warm up with a series of videos distributed by Travel World Video ($19.95 each, 1-800-383-8811):

FODOR'S GREAT BRITAIN

This 75-minute tour is best-suited for first-time travelers to London and points beyond. The tape is parceled into three sections, beginning with an overview of some of Great Britain's must-see attractions. A double-decker-bus tour is recommended to help newcomers orient themselves among the city's many landmarks (Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben). There are excursions into a local pub, a subterranean trip via the Underground (subway system) and a rare chance to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace without the crowds.

Such obvious tourist snares as Covent Garden and Harrods are not neglected, and there are side trips to the verdant countryside, including stops at Stratfield Saye, the country estate that continues to house descendants of the Duke of Wellington, and at Henley-on-the-Thames, site of the Royal Regatta held each July. Other stops include the beautiful Georgian city of Bath, once a spa resort that drew 19th-century sybarites, the university town of Oxford and the pastoral Lake District.

Though much of the tape skillfully evokes the flavor of each region, the sequence on Edinburgh is so scant, the producers would have been better advised to cut it from the tour. The overview in Part I is followed by a segment offering rudimentary tips on such topics as money, telecommunications, customs and climate. Part III presents a superficial survey of 25 hotels, some of them illustrated with snapshots of a single room. As with all the videos in this series, a pocket guide includes maps and more details about prices and accommodations.

FODOR'S SINGAPORE

Singapore has been described as a "city in love with its future" with good reason. This booming port is the major gateway to Asia. More than 100 ships dock here each day, and with 118 banks, the city has become a humming financial center.

Against the towering modern skyline, this fascinating 45-minute portrait of the city explores the "seam between the past and the future." Singapore's 2½ million inhabitants are a harmonious amalgam of Malays, Chinese and Indians. Scratch the surface of modernity and you will find vivid examples of ancient religions and traditions. For instance, a geomancer helped design the new IBM building downtown, creating an open passage "for good spirits who travel on the wind." Residents will come home from white-collar jobs and light jao sticks or smear opium on statues of gods to keep them in a good mood for granting favors. There is a fascinating sequence on an annual Hindu festival in which faithful Hindus walk across burning coals to prove their purity. (While many are successful, others are ferried by ambulance to the nearest burn unit.) Business travelers and tourists alike will be intrigued by the contrasts between ancient and modern in what Somerset Maugham called the smiling city.

FODOR'S BANGKOK

For centuries, Bangkok was known as "the Venice of the East," a serene river port whose canals and floating markets offered a sensual setting for trade. To their credit, the writers and producers of this 45-minute tape have captured the subtle textures of Thai life past and present. The soaring gables of the temple of Wat Po and a sighting of saffron-robed monks reflect the influence of Buddhism on the city's culture. "Getting lost is the best way to see Bangkok," says local resident William Warren, a writer, who urges tourists to board a ferry at the fabled waterfront Oriental Hotel and wander among market stalls cluttered with jasmine, fresh fish, fried crickets and cobra meat.

Shoppers are told how to haggle tactfully. "The word for warm-hearted fun in Thai is sanuk and it's an important part of the national character, as well as of bargaining." Warren offers a wise analogy when he compares the Thai style and food: "It's full of hot flavors; sweet flavors, sour flavors. At times, something nice happens; something bad may happen. But Thai style is unpredictable."

FODOR'S HUNGARY

It's hard to keep up with current events in Hungary: One week the government is parting the Iron Curtain to usher East German emigrants safely on their way, the next it's voting to reject orthodox Marxism. Within the frame of the country's volatile politics, the Fodor's editors have ably introduced Hungary to potential visitors in this 60-minute video. (Eugene Fodor, creator of the guidebook series, fled Hungary in 1939, then returned last year with a film crew and now narrates parts of the tour.)

Culturally and historically, Hungary is one of the richest of the Central European nations. Its 10 million people have developed a national tradition noted for its art, literature and music. In addition to a thorough tour of Budapest, the capital, viewers will take a boat trip along the Danube and visit such sites as the medicinal baths of Gellert Hill and the 13th-century Ják Abbey. Stops at Hungary's equivalent of the French Riviera, Lake Balaton, the wine region of Tokaj and the Hungarian "outback," where local cowboys still perform legendary feats of horsemanship, are all recommended for travelers who tire of bustling cities.

FODOR'S MEXICO

Here is a 75-minute trip with nothing to recommend it. In trying to show so much of the country, the creators of this tape have succeeded only in showing too little. The itinerary starts in Mexico City, bounces to Cuernavaca and Taxco, then to several resorts on the Pacific coast including Acapulco, goes back to Mexico City, on to a handful of colonial cities, and returns to Mexico City before heading to the Gulf coast. Quick! The Dramamine.

Scenes are often so generic they are indistinguishable, and some of the sightseeing is woefully inadequate. The mountain village of San Miguel d'Allende, for example, consists of shots of a balcony, a spire and a dome. The camera work is uninspired (a transition to the Pacific coast opens with a feeble wave lapping a jumble of rocks), the narrative is clumsy (is there any fishing village that is not sleepy?) and clogged with debatable statements (not everyone would agree that the Mexican mural movement transformed the landscape of 20th-century art).

Travel tips that follow the tour of Great Britain (above) are reused here, without tailoring. Broad advice on transcontinental calls, for example, may be useful in London, but there is no reference on this tape to the often nonfunctioning telephone service in Mexico. The tour concludes with a numbing procession of hotels. A travel brochure offers more helpful information and it is free.

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