Take no guidebook?
I've been lurking around Travelfish for some time and obsess with wanting to go to Laos. Recently I purchased the GT Rider map of Laos which I think is great, especially as it has so many maps of various towns. Highly recommended.
I have always travelled with a guidebook but am wondering if I would need one for Laos. A combination of the free travel guides I downloaded here on Travelfish, the GT Rider map, researching Laos on this website before leaving home and then accessing Travelfish while in Laos (when possible with a laptop) makes me think there is no reason to lug around a guidebook.
But then again, maybe a guidebook would help even more.
Any opinions about this?
#1 Posted: 14/9/2010 - 18:17
On my last SE Asia trip - which was a pretty involved 5 month journey through Vietnam and Thailand with shorter stints in Laos and Singapore - I exclusively relied on Travelfish for guidance and found it to be more than adequate. Any questions, which I couldn't find answers to in the downloadable guides and efish or elsewhere on the site, I brought directly to the forums and always received detailed and accurate answers, typically within hours. These were usually very specific questions on how to get from one place to another (for example Ayutthaya to Phimai), and the forums never let me down. Taken as a whole, it's my opinion - based on this direct experience - that for mainland SE Asia Travelfish provides all the information resources needed.
That said, I suppose comparing with other guides could never hurt.
#2 Posted: 14/9/2010 - 22:30
The last time I went through Laos (2 years ago) I was on my bike, stuck to the south and did so without a guide book. All I had was a GPS, road map and the TF guide(s). If you have the GTR map and the TF guide(s), you will be fine for getting around and seeing interesting places and things, and eating well. But if you want, for example, more in-depth historical information on people and places then you may want to take a guide book. Most of the books on Laos aren't particularly large or heavy to carry around.
#3 Posted: 15/9/2010 - 00:34
Similar to the others above, I used Travelfish pretty much exclusively on my last trip to southern Laos back in January 2010. There was plenty of information on the essentials, and I was pretty pleased in general with the recommendations on where to stay, etc.
You'll likely also get a great deal of information from the guest houses where you stay and from the people you meet on the road. First-hand info like that can be really useful and is usually quite current.
The problem with a guide book is that it is already 6 months to a year-old info before it even goes to print. I wouldn't spend top dollar to buy a new Laos guidebook, but if you already have one or can pick up a used copy cheep, then it may be worth having, particularly since most Laos guidebooks are relatively small and lightweight. While the prices and lots of other information is often out of date, things like telephone numbers and addresses and museum opening/closing times, etc., don't usually change that much. I often find that the maps are particularly useful to have on hand, and the history and culture sections make for good reading while you explore. When you are done you can donate the book to a guesthouse library or trade it or whatever. Regards.
#4 Posted: 15/9/2010 - 02:28
Recently I purchased the GT Rider map of Laoswhich I think is great, especially as it has so many maps of varioustowns. Highly recommended.
GT Rider map is great for the whole country. But the town maps are not detailed. & they can be outdated e.g. Sayabouly town map in the March 2009 edition was useless to me in Dec 2010 (town has changed lots). Will still continue to use it for future trips to Laos, but for town maps i'd refer to hobomaps.com. Also good & accurate detailed town maps online at oudomxay.info & http://www.stdplaos.com/web-based/visiter_information/province_inlaos/xiengkhouang/xiengkhouang.html (not sure if stdplaos has since added similar town maps for other provinces - try checking). & some decent province/town maps here: http://ecotourismlaos.com/maps.htm
I have always travelled with a guidebook but am wondering if I wouldneed one for Laos. A combination of the free travel guides I downloadedhere on Travelfish, the GT Rider map, researching Laos on this websitebefore leaving home and then accessing Travelfish while in Laos (whenpossible with a laptop) makes me think there is no reason to lug arounda guidebook.
Rely on Travelfish & stuff i find in recent forum & travelog posts for logistics. Lonely Planet Laos (2005 edition) for language (it had Lao script in the language section & also for place names), history, food & environment info sections, Rough Guide Laos (from the library) for the architecture info i.e. guidebooks for background info that is 'timeless'. Guidebook descriptions of towns & sights also interesting in terms of comparison with my own impressions of the same places, but sometimes errors in their maps. & the Lonely Planet recommended walking tour of Luang Prabang was useful for knowing which places would be the most crowded.
#5 Posted: 15/9/2010 - 09:36
Good info. I will also have a GPS which may come in handy (rarely). Most of my travels were pre-internet so i find it interesting adapting this huge burst of modern technology to my travels. I like it a lot and working out the right balance between tried and true and slick and modern is something to be worked out.
#6 Posted: 15/9/2010 - 10:54
SBEwrote:the Lonely Planet recommended walking tour of Luang Prabang was useful for knowing which places would be the most crowded.
LOL. Travelfish guides somehow don't seem to produce the lemming-like behaviour that LP guidebooks do!
I haven't used the TF Laos guide (yet) but I can't see why anyone would need an LP guidebook as well.... except for one thing. What happens if you need to consult a TF guide only to find your Ipod batteries have run out and there's no electricity until they turn the generators on at 6pm. (Or does the whole of Laos have access to mains electricity nowadays?)
#7 Posted: 15/9/2010 - 15:28
22nd December, 2009
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Hi! I didn't take my guidebook when I went to Laos and I had alot of fun! You get to a place and locals will tell you what you can do and see around town. However when I got home I realized there was so much to do which I never got to know... For my next trip I ll take a Rough Guide plus Travelfish for sure!
#8 Posted: 15/9/2010 - 16:24
22nd December, 2009
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Actually, for the travelfish guide, as it is available on the internet you don't need to take it with you, you can have a look from place to place in internet cafes...
#9 Posted: 15/9/2010 - 16:26
. . . or have them downloaded in your laptop or iPhone for access anytime. I even scanned the GT Rider map into my laptop as a back up.
#10 Posted: 15/9/2010 - 16:46
With a laptop and access to wifi and frequent reliable power supply yeah sure you can substitute a lot of e-resources that negate the "need" for a travel book. The overhead though is pretty obvious (above requirements plus risk of theft/damage to device). More interesting prospect would be travel without either. Gather info from forums like this, buy maps and print out info, talk with locals and other travellers along the way and write stuff down. Honestly, and I don't mean to be snobby, but I'd guess almost half the reason people buy guidebooks is to establish a sense of comfort, especially first-timers. Also guidebooks like The Holy Planet if followed too closely can result in missing great stuff along the way, and then you get people complaining how touristy the place they ended up has become. Anyway, making your "own" guidebook/resource either on paper or in a net/notebook will require more work but probably pay off bigger.
#11 Posted: 15/9/2010 - 18:03
True Captain. I have visions of adlibbing it around Laos but gathering whatever info you can beforehand still helps. I'd feel fine just turning up with the GT Rider map and access TF whenever needed. Guidebooks definitely create a sense of comfort which isn't all bad. My problem is I wanna go there NOW but have to wait!!!!
#12 Posted: 15/9/2010 - 18:33
I used a Garmin Vista HCx with the MapSource City Navigator NT Southeastern Asia SD card. It was superb for Thailand, but there was no map for Laos included. I couldn't find one anywhere before I left. If you find one, please let me know.
I still created breadcrumb paths when I was there, and these uploaded and fit perfectly onto Google Earth.
#13 Posted: 15/9/2010 - 20:35
The first time I went to Sulawesi I had neither a map nor a guidebook with me.
There wasn't a lot of information on the internet but I'd (wrongly) assumed I'd be bound to bump into other tourists who'd have fresh info about places they been to and road conditions etc.
Surprisingly few tourists about that year for some reason (it's been busier in more recent years).
Never mind, I'd taken the precaution of scribbling a rough itinerary on the back of an envelope. Unfortunately this had to get modified because of Ramadam. Logistics can get even more complicated than usual in Indonesia during Ramadan... local ferries get cancelled, buses and kijangs get cancelled and internal flights are not only full but about 4 times the normal price.
I needed a Plan B, different route. Unfortunately there was no room on the back of my envelope for a Plan B so I didn't have one. (That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it).
I remember somehow finding myself at a small bus station and not having the faintest clue where any of the buses were going or whether any were going in the general direction I wanted to go. Nobody spoke a word of English. My Bahasa vocabulary at the time was roughly limited to Hello, Thankyou, How much, Food, Bintang, and Can I have some water for the mandi please... non of these words really helped.
Of course, if you're the adventurous type, hopping on random buses is an excellent way of avoiding the hordes and seeing places that aren't even mentioned in LP. However it's best to do this kind of thing at the beginning of your trip ... it gives you better chance of reaching some place you might have heard of before your visa runs out.
I have no idea what a Garmin Vista HCx with the MapSource City Navigator NT Southeastern Asia SD card is ... but even an old fashioned map would have been very useful in that bus station!
#14 Posted: 16/9/2010 - 07:39
I'd probably do better if I did read the guidebook or this website more.
I read both more for laughs, I like reading what someone else thought of a town or guest house so usually I read after the fact. Sometimes on Travelfish I learn of a guest house that might have been better than the one I stayed at.
I do lug around an old LP, I think the cover is from 06 but inside is 03. I thought it was real, but after buying realized it's bootleg. The good parts are timeless. This guy Joe Cummings, the writer, was fluent in Thai, and ate the food and knew the history. Best part is he was a wat fanatic. A lot of times all a town has to recommend it is an old wat, so they are worth looking at, and once you start looking at them you start noticing differences. I know, I know, borrrrrring! What can I say? A heck of a lot of my time is spent in places without internet. Gotta read something, have to go look at something, after you've seen the market go look at a wat.
Even guest house reviews can be amusing. There's a joke about a good review in the LP being the kiss of death. Sometimes they've received the kiss, been over crowded, gone to seed, and been revived.
I too use GT rider, but now I've bought a Reise map after Archmichael recommended it. Different than GT, much more detail, topo lines and many town names extremely detailed. I'm a map fanatic and I like it a lot.
#15 Posted: 16/9/2010 - 10:24
Ah, Somsai, so glad to hear my recommendation worked out. Like you, I've been fascinated by maps for, well, decades, I have to admit. I now have a large, old flat file full of all sorts.
But yes, ReiseKnowhow produces a very good product. Must be a Teutonic thing.
#16 Posted: 16/9/2010 - 10:38
somsai's comment about Joe Cummings reminds me of the good old days when the LP Thailand book was only a few fingers thick if even that and an LP recommendation wasn't the kiss of death. Joe Cummings has always been sort of a folk hero/legend to me, because he is one of the pioneers who was out there really on the edge of things blazing the trail for the rest of us.
he contributed to a book i used for a trip to Mexico too, and his information and insights were just as good there as they've consistently been for southeast Asia.
i recently read a blog saying that Joe Cummings was splitting his time between Chiang Mai and Todo Santos in Baja California Sur. Great spots. but a Joe Cummings facebook page says he is 104 years old, playing music and living in Bangers. that sounds about right too.
i always thought that Joe looked a bit like Iggy Pop, minus about a million miles of wear and tear. i also suspect that the character of Switters in Tom Robbin's "Fierce Invalids" is at least in part based on Joe. plus, i'm still suspicious that there is a connection between Joe and our own Captain Bob, but i don't want to out him so i'll stop here...
#17 Posted: 17/9/2010 - 01:08
With ... access to wifi and frequent reliable power supply
that can limit the places one can explore in Laos.
actually, the best guidebooks i've seen so far are Japanese ones. the layout, coverage, illustrations, beautiful photos & presentation of the information (great at giving an easily digestible 'big picture' overview) are wonderful, wish i could read Japanese. there are at least 2 series in magazine-like format that are packed with graphics & updated annually. have managed to use issues from one series to decide on where to go & what to do/see for my trips to Japan, that's how clearly the info is presented. have looked at their issues for Bangkok & Thailand (since am more familiar with these places) & if there were English versions it'd be what i'd throw at people asking the 'no idea where to go what to see on first visit' questions on forums & there's one series in book format where i've found more comprehensive & updated listings of accommodation for Laos (even for small towns in less 'popular' provinces) than in English language sources. the food section has a whole lot of photos of common dishes, each clearly labelled with the name of the dish in Lao script & Japanese - serves as a picture menu where there is none. if i couldn't speak a word of Lao, Thai or English & were totally new to the cuisine i'd love to use that to order esp in places where the menu depends on what appeared in the local market that morning & the cook's imagination.
#18 Posted: 17/9/2010 - 23:33
there is a connection between Joe and our own Captain Bob
Have met Joe a couple times when he lived in Chiang Mai (playing guitar in Heaven Beach - soon to become a thing of the past incidentally) and have also had a close encounter with Iggy Pop at a small gig in Germany. Here endeth the "connection".
#19 Posted: 18/9/2010 - 13:52
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