Preparations – The Travel Guide Conundrum

Howdy folks. As my next trip excitedly approaches – yes I will be in Bangkok this time in two week! I continue to prepare. Where am I at? Well, seen the doctor for anti-malarials, got my visa for Myanmar and hotels are all booked. I have a good idea of the things I want to see in the places I visit, oh and I have my guidebooks.

I have gone, as I usually do, for Lonely Planet. Some people see guide books as ‘bibles’, but the reality I think in this day and age is that they are merely a resource. We have the internet and if you want to see what something is like, then there’s going to be something on the internet about it. That includes forums (and the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree is excellent there), blogs and of course your sites such as trip advisor. Trip Advisor allows you to not review hotels but sights which is interesting. At least it’s unlikely historic or scenic sights are paying for good reviews. Right?

books 2

I started a bit of a love affair with Lonely Planet guide books back before I first travelled in 1999. They were beautiful books, exciting and had the information I needed about hotels and things to see. Today I am not nearly as reliant on them, and also I have tried a few others as well – principally Footprints and Bradt, as well as Let’s Go.

Footprints I used in 2006 and I just couldn’t find what I needed quickly and the listings weren’t as comprehensive as LP either. Let’s Go, well seemed to be focussed on the party scene I guess and they were really…. Yellow. I haven’t seen anyone using a Let’s Go for ages. Do the still print them? Bradt I rather like. They had individual guides for Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan whereas everyone else just did a Central Asia guide. Now, I didn’t take them with me I stuck with the Lonely Planet but I did read them before leaving to get a real feel for the place. A hotel or sight recommended by two guide books is often a safe bet as well.

books 1

This trip I haven’t really used Lonely Planet for hotels. Frankly, the Lonely Planet- Myanmar is not good for accommodation at all. Prices have escalated since the book was published (and it’s the latest edition). This is bound to happen because the books are researched, then compiled and then printed. On its first day of release the information is (at a guess) a year old. But boy have prices on accommodation gone up lately in Myanmar. On average I’m spending around $35 a night, and most of the places are not even in the Lonely Planet.

This Lonely Planet hasn’t got the best reviews also, so I know I need to take the info with a grain of salt any way. Usually I find the maps pretty useful. And it’s nice to have a place to start with your planning. And I am a PLANNER!

books 3

In 1999 I would arrive somewhere with a hotel picked from the Lonely Planet guide and then get a rickshaw or taxi to take me there. So in some ways I was less regimented but I was also only working off the list in the book. Sometimes I would have someone come up and offer a room at the bus stop or train station, and had the chance to see the room and negotiate a price. This worked out pretty well for me. Maybe one day I’ll travel like that again.

As for the Myanmar Lonely Planet, I suspect it wasn’t proof read very well (like my own books lol!). Here’s a little bone of contention I found.

books 5

As you can see – it talks below about the heat in March, yet the scale is completely wrong suggesting Bagan and surrounds are pretty cold! (which I wouldn’t have minded although it would increase my baggage! So – treat what you read with a dose of common sense and logic. I still remember the map of Alexandria in the LP Egypt back in 1999 where almost nothing was where it was supposed to be.

So, in summary I still read guide books and they are still a useful tool, however, I use the internet and also on the ground contact with locals and other travellers to really get a sense of what to do, see and where to say. And especially with transport. Often there is important information missing on transport and how to get from A to B sadly. They will list the transport from where you’re staying to pretty much everywhere but the place you want to go!

This trip I will be using the guide books even less. Although I will say that Lonely Planet’s e-versions are a great idea. You can print out just the pages you need and not feel guilty about scribbling on them, and you can pass them on or throw them out when you leave a location. I’m using the eguide for my time in Thailand as I’m only really going to Bangkok and Chiang Mai this time.

Okay… that’s all for today. May the journey never end!

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