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Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a shoestring (Travel Guide) Paperback – July 1, 2012
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The first thing to notice is the planning your trip section in the beginning. It provides a lot of quick summary information to get the imagination flowing that was lacking from recent editions. I count this as a definite positive step; it makes it easier for me to loan the book out to friends when they ask me why I like going to SE Asia.
In the individual country sections, the summary page at the start of the chapter has been expanded from 2/3 of a page to 1 3/4 of a page, with the highlights section on another page with the map. The expanded summaries are useful for getting a quick feel out for general initial planning.
Unfortunately, there had to be some bad to go along with the good. The city sections within the country are simply not catered to the budget traveler. Unless prices have doubled since 2010 (highly unlikely), the book is geared toward flash-packer and mid-range travelers. For example, while the summary section on Laos suggests that budget hotel rooms, I.E. the ones that a purchaser of this book would be looking for, cost around 10$, which is true. The rooms listed in the city sections, however, range up to $40, with most of them solidly in the $20-$30 range. That's what many people budget for a whole day in Laos. In one instance, the book suggests, not even in one their too plentiful treat yourself boxes, a $58 Bungalow in Vieng Vang, where backpacker bungalows for ~10$ are very common with a little sniffing and haggling.
This phenomenon of not catering to budget travelers is not unique to the Laos section. The Bangkok section lists (as a budget option! Only $ on their scale of $-$$$) a guest house for 1950 Baht. For frame of reference, you can get an hotel room from a name you would recognize for less than that. A search on Kayak or Agoda will reveal a plethora of options for significantly less, and any backpacker can tell you that prices are cheaper on the ground.
The summary is that while the summary sections of the book provide inspiration for the imagination that was lacking in previous editions, this newest version is no longer geared toward true budget travelers. It seems that the days of Lonely Planet having the best SE Asia cheap guidebook are over. And it's a damned shame too; there's nobody apparent to fill the void.
Besides this there are the inherent challenges of publishing a guidebook, i.e. things change often and are bound to slip through the cracks of each new edition. I have already been tripped up a couple times because what is written in the book is not always the case anymore. This is most often true for bus prices and even where the buses can be found (enjoy Luang Prabang and it's nightmare web of bus stations). Be sure to pair the book with online research to get the best information.
Still, the book has come in handy more times than I can count. I wouldn't travel without it, especially since Internet is not always available outside of hostels in SE Asia.
This was a great jumping off point for me though, and I'll donate it to the goodwill and hopefully inspire someone else!
The main advantage of having a travel guide on the Kindle is it cuts down on weight -- and Lonely Planet guides tend to be hefty. The big disadvantage is that it's harder to flip through a digital text on the go: you can't dog ear it, and using bookmarks on a kindle will always keep a series of taps between you and that tidbit of info you were looking for.
To make the kindle guides more useful, Lonely Planet needs to do a few things. Number one, the maps need to be readable. In this addition, using the zoom feature, many, but not all, of the maps were legible. On some maps, it was nearly impossible to make out street names, which makes the map pretty much useless. Second of all, the book needs a ton more indexing and quick links. From the main table of contents, you can jump from country to country -- Thailand to Laos, for example. That brings you to another table of contents where you can jump from city to city -- Bangkok to Chang Mai. But once you're in a section to a city, it becomes painful to go from one section to another --from accommodation to "getting into the city and getting away." You have to keep tapping the screen to get to the section that you want. For big cities, that can mean a lot of taps.
In the end, I appreciated cutting down on the weight in my day pack. But a better solution is to get your friend to buy a physical copy of the book -- and have her carry it around.
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This lonely planet describes every country I plan to vist and have many good information.Read more