Before going on our trip we bought the latest Lonely Planet – Southeast Asia on a Shoestring Travel Guide (14th Ed.), published in March 2008. The book contains separate chapters on each of the countries in South East Asia and for each country it lists the main cities, towns and other notable places. For each of those places place it in turn lists the main activities, main sights, accommodation options and eateries and lists the prices for everything above.
We thought we would be all set with this book as it covered all the four countries that we planned to visit and we were not alone with that thought. A great majority of the people we have seen on the road have been carrying this same book.
I can only say for us that we were greatly disappointed. We weren’t satisfied with this book at all! It focuses mainly on accommodation and where to eat but less on what is really interesting in the places it recommends so it hardly passes as a travel guide – its more of a hostel/guesthouse/restaurant directory. If the book would have been a good hostel/guesthouse/restaurant directory we wouldn’t have any complaints but it wasn’t at all. The info it gave was too out-dated for that, the prices were way wrong and the descriptions were often inaccurate. Maybe we should have known better, buying a book that was one and a half year old at the time but it was the latest version and we didn’t give it a second thought.
Before the trip I had read a lot of reviews that complained about Lonely Planet and this book might be the reason. If we were repeating the same trip we would not buy this book. We probably wouldn’t even take it if it would be given to us! Therefore we really can’t recommend this book for anyone unless they have a brand new version.
We however bought the Lonely Planet – Vietnam book while in Cambodia and that one was very good. It had good descriptions on every place we visited with a lot more info than the shoestring book and the info was very accurate and thorough.
If we would have known then what we know now we would have bought the Lonely Planet – Thailand book before leaving home – so that we could plan the first couple of weeks. For the ten days we spent in Cambodia we didn’t really need a guide book and we really liked the Vietnam book we bought in Cambodia so I guess we would buy that one again – or the Rough Guide – Vietnam.
By the way, they sell a lot of really cheap copies in Cambodia (we saw them in Vietnam as well) so keep that in mind. The copies are of decent quality but the maps, pictures and drawings are nothing special. What is good about them is the price, a Lonely Planet book that costs around $20 on Amazon is available for just $3-4 in Cambodia. With that kind of an investment it is easy just to leave the book behind when you don’t need it anymore. Of course the downside is that they are illegal so you wouldn’t be buying those books, would you?
For the ten days we spent in Laos we didn’t really need a book but we would have liked to travel more in Laos and then we would surely need a guide book and I guess that the Lonely Planet – Laos is as good as any but just to get the comparison it might be a good idea to get the Rough Guide – Laos for cheap in Vietnam before entering Laos.
For the China part of our trip we have purchased Lonely Planet – China and it looks good but the real judgment will be handed out after we have used it in China.