on August 12, 2004
In the past 2 years I have been on the road for over 1 year. Most recently returning from a 7 month trip which included Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, India, Nepal, UAE, and Qatar among others.
I took this guidebook with me (No chance of finding it in bookstores I suspected correctly).
The author uses a very innovative map system with symbols to quickly show the traveler what is worth visiting, what is not, and how to get there - by bus, air, or train. The symbols and limited text also show where to stay. Train schedules in small tables too. The author provides just the right amount of descriptive text about the various countries to keep yourself out of trouble and/or pique your interest.
What this map system does is help eliminate the "Head stuck in guidebook" that can befall any traveler - experienced or not.
Many guidebooks like to "hand-hold" travelers almost to the point where some of the fun of traveling is removed. This book gets rid of alot of that feeling. It is also very quick to use once understood (Which doesn't take long). Don't expect long winded descriptions - that is often best saved for discovering for yourself when you travel.
The main caveat is that this book is aimed at low budget and "harder" traveling folks. If you enjoy/desire to go up market once in a while (Mostly with lodging I suspect) another guidebook to supplement this one might be advisable. (Or maybe you can just use the Internet for that "every now and then treat/respite") The author does provide links for numerous useful websites that I didn't know about prior too.
While I was in Thailand (Supplemented by a LP) I was using this book to plan an overland route through Cambodia (Originally Vietnam too). Unfortunately time constraints did not allow me to travel that plan. But when I return to the region I will most certainly use this book - perhaps exclusively. If anything, it allows VERY FAST trip planning.
I also used this book exclusively for Singapore. Singapore tourism authority/offices/website have plenty of info and Singapore is super safe and easy to get around. But, this book led me to one stellar attraction which I might not have gone to otherwise - the Singapore Night Safari/Zoo. It is indicated with a STAR on the map as a worthy attraction. While not a fan of zoos, the concept intrigued me. The Singapore night safari is unique and could be the best zoo in the world in terms of presentation (At least from those I've visited and others I've read about). Kudos to the author for noting it.
NOTE: Only limited coverage is provided for Indonesia - where I traveled on Java and Bali. I used an excellent Michelin NEOS guide for that country (Another non-Lonely Planet that is recommended). Book description above lists the primary countries and those with just nutshell info.
I have used dozens of travel guidebooks in my life. I only wish more of them would be written like this.
on March 23, 2006
Having spent 3 months in SE Asia the last part of 2005, this was the only book we really needed. It is so much easier to navigate than a more traditional guide book. Though some of the information was a tad dated, especially travel times(it was published in 2003), it was our bible as we traveled. We met a few others who also had it (as opposed to the throngs who had Lonely Planet) and who were equally impressed. Long-timer travelers we met who we showed the book to were amazed to see so much accurate, easy-to-access information (ie to get to Burma cheaply from Bagkok, take a Bangladesh airline flight that stops in Yangon on the way to Bangladesh).
The maps take a little time to understand, but once you do, everything is laid out for you in one concise picture. It's like a friend drew you map showing the highlights and inside scoop. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words--what his maps say on one page, it would take LP 6-7pages.
on January 30, 2006
This is easily the most engaging and useful travel guide I have bought. I love the "treasure map" style and it is a perfect fit for Southeast Asia. This book was very helpful in getting around Southeast Asia and made me excited to go. The where's nice section is better than the highlights section in other travel books. I especially liked language sections as it included very information transliteration guides.
on December 9, 2004
I say "ultimate" guide insomuch as I found myself using it, and nothing else, on a 5-month sojourn through Southeast Asia. Although I purchased a number of other guides, I ended up leaving them with other travelers because this one is just so darn handy. It's small enough to fit in a cargo pocket, so it accompanied me everywhere.
What makes Mark Elliott's guide so great is that it gives me just enough knowledge to be dangerous. His schematic maps orient me and highlight the sites worth seeing and the places worth visiting. I don't need to do a lot of research, just grab the book and get going!
What it does NOT have is detailed histories and background information on the many locals. That's OK by me because I can pick that up from locals or other travelers hauling their heavy guidebooks everywhere! I lost count of how many times people offered to buy my copy once they'd seen the practicality of the design.
Note that there is a slight learning curve in understanding the schematic maps. Elliott does a great job introducing them and provides opportunity to learn. Once you've understood the design, you're a master of your own destiny.
***** Highly Recommended!
on May 24, 2003
This is a pretty unique travel book for low budget travelers. It takes all the practical information that you need to survive but then throws you in to explore for yourself showing you where to get free information rather than regurgitating the standard stuff that you get free anyway, yet taking great pains to show you money saving details like where the bus stop into town is when you arrive at any of Bangkok's bus stations. There are so many maps that it can actually be better (as well as much cheaper and lighter to carry) than a series of one country guides. One thing that takes a while to get used to is the icons which make the maps look wild the first time you look at them, but when you get used to them means you get info packed in a small space. In cities where there are loads of guest houses just a "traveler area" is marked which seems like a good idea. Transport is summarized not in words but in sort of spider-like schematic maps which show times, prices, etc and diagrammatically give a good idea of where in a town to find the bus in the first place. On the other hand if you want accommodation much above the budget level this is not the book for you. By the way with all the SARS paranoia it is a great time to be out here in SE Asia!
on July 24, 2003
Did you ever wish you were the 19th-century Richard Burton, looking at the white spaces on the fringes of a map and wondering what lay inside them? I have; I suppose you have too. Those days are gone for good, though. Mark Elliott's book, however, turns that concept on its head. In it he presents a series of lovingly crafted maps of Southeast Asia, packed with enough information to get me there in the first place, yet vague enough to encourage me to explore it on my own. Some guidebooks can be so overwritten as to make me feel like, "Why bother going? I've already read about it." This book, though, sits inside my briefcase and tantalizes me. It's fun to read, too; I read it on the train and laugh out loud, and everyone in the car is shocked. It answers all the essential questions -- especially what to do if you just can't finish your dinner of dog meat. (Think about it!) What I've seen of Southeast Asia matches what I have read in this book. And for the places I haven't made it to yet, well, this book goads me into going farther.
If all a real sailor needs is a ship and a star to steer her by, then all a true traveler needs is a backpack and this book to journey by. Buy it -- you will not be disappointed!
on November 17, 2004
Wow! What a great book to use for information during travel. This book has all the requirements for an excellent guide: small in size, packed with the best types of info, and maps included. I plan to take this to Southeast Asia and use it to its fullest. The book is ingenius in that each map takes up only one page but includes information that would have taken up 10 pages if not for the symbols and abbreviations used. Nice piece of work!
on May 23, 2006
This guidebook is indispensable. It's easy to use once you figure out the map key, lightweight, and had tons of very accurate useful information. I loved it!! I ended up having the most reliable guidebook of anyone else I met.
on January 9, 2007
This book was awesome.
I used it in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
I had a lonely planet somewhere deep in my backpack, but it never saw daylight until I left it in my room in Hanoi. Pretty much every place I went, I just took a quick look at the map and had a reasonable idea of what to do next or where to go.
I met a lot of travelers who were impressed with it as well. I ended up giving it away as a gift on my way out.
If you like a little more adventure than something like a lonely planet and don't want to bury your head in a guidebook, go with this.
Also, the book emphasizes the philosophy that meeting people is what travelling is all about, more so than just seeing things. And I completely agree with that. So if that's your bag, then this book is certainly for you.
Lastly, it is slightly dated (like prices, specific bus timings, etc.). But the information is still very usable.
on April 24, 2007
This book became a close, guarded part of my experience in South East Asia. Mark Elliot has excellent insider tips and maps for things to see and do in every area of that part of the world!