Rough Guide Laos 3
First published 14th August, 2007
Four and a half years of change have washed through Laos since the excellent second edition of Rough Guide's Laos was published. If you expect the new edition, released in February 2007, to be in the same league, prepare to be disappointed. Where Laos 2 was easily the best on the market, Laos 3 falls into the "read before departure ... and leave at home" category.
That The Washington Post describes it as "...the best guidebook available..." is more a reflection of a lack of other options back then. Now with the new Lonely Planet hot off the press, Rough Guide's Laos 3 is worth buying for its background section only as for facts on the ground it's just a well, very rough guide.
One of the highlights of Laos 2 was the detailed background information, and in the new edition this highlight remains, with some tweaking and expansion. A comprehensive history is accompanied by a catalogue of cultural habits, religious beliefs, environmental issues and a short but good reading list. A snappy language section brings up the rear.
At the other end of the book, the introductory section, covering everything from getting a flight to the difficulty of buying nappies is informative, well organised and easy to digest. There's even a very brief overview on the border crossings. Some sections get more than their fair share -- four and a half pages on getting to Laos seems excessive, as does almost an entire page on opening hours and public holidays -- lists anyone? Nevertheless, it's decent so far.
For many, accommodation is the prime purpose of a guidebook, yet Laos 3 sometimes fails to deliver. Don Dhet and Don Khon form the highlight of southern Laos for many, and there's in excess of 40 places to choose from across the two islands -- ranging from $1 a night shacks to tasteful $30 a night retreats. Laos 3 sums it up in two paragraphs and suggests just six places. Vang Vieng boasts more than 80 guesthouses and hotels to choose from but Laos 3 rustles up just 15. Admittedly in both places some offerings are similar, but one can't help but think the authors just thought "Ah, they're all the same -- I just couldn't be bothered to look at any more". I guess you'll have to check Travelfish to find the rest.
Then there's what they missed altogether. In Savannakhet, "the Mekong Hotel is the only place that views the river". Actually, it's not -- the Nong Soda, a couple of hundred metres up the road, does as well. And it's a great place to stay. There's also no mention of any of the trekking opportunities from Savannakhet. Heading north, there's no mention of the Gibbon Experience. Head north again, trekking out of Phongsali gets short shift for anything more than a stroll to outlying villages (5+ day treks are available).
It's not all bad though. The guide is strong for the key drawcards. Luang Prabang is well covered, as is Vientiane. Activities around Tha Khaek and Vang Vieng are treated pretty well. Further south, Champasak, Wat Phu and especially Don Khong are covered comprehensively.
Rough Guides have an odd way of handling transport -- rather than it being listed with each town, it's listed in a summary format at the end of each region -- but there's no prices! Sometimes cost is listed in the body of the text, but not often enough. Matters are confused further by shaded boxes that list transport information. These sometimes include price, sometimes don't, sometimes list destinations covered in the summary section, sometimes don't. Not all destinations have these shaded boxes, and not all destinations are covered in the summary. The result is a confusing, hodgepodge mess.
Confusing again are border crossings. Some, such as Boten to China and Chong Mek to Thailand, are covered in the shaded boxes, but the Nam Phao / Cau Treo crossing (with opening hours) is in the body text -- as is the Dansavanh / Lao Bao crossing (without opening hours). Veun Kham to Cambodia gets neither -- just a footnote to the Don Dhet and Don Khon practicalities section. For the Na Maew / Nam Xoi border crossing into Vietnam, you have to make do with "It's not usually hard to find transport up to the border at least but you'll need to have a Vietnamese visa in advance to use the crossing." -- Transport details? Opening hours? Onwards travel? Lao visa on arrival? The Nam Can / Nam Khan crossing is similarly vague. A vital portion of the book reads like an afterthought.
Text and design
Rough Guide designers know what white space is and they make liberal use of it. This makes the title's single-column, well-spaced layout far easier on the eyes than the dense-as-sardines Lonely Planet.
Organisation is a little unfortunate. Some sections within each region are ordered in the reverse of how many would actually use it. The Far North commences with Udomxai (the first sizeable town you'd hit if coming from Luang Prabang) while I'd expect most would arrive in the Far North from Huay Xai (which is covered in the middle of the section).
I like Rough Guide maps -- they're not glamorous but are easy to use. The maps in Laos 3 are no exception. They eschew the hi-tech approach witnessed in the latest Lonely Planets (which has delivered near unusable maps). They're clean, with easy lines and shading, and are straightforward to follow. I did find the revised numbering confusing though -- legends are listed alphabetically, but keyed according to where they appear on the map. Some of the regional maps mark roads where nothing more than glorified goat tracks lie -- perhaps one of their mappers should go and try Route 18 on something bigger than a goat.
Compared to other guides, the Rough Guide is light on colour pics, though there are some very catching grey scale shots. Colour is restricted to the introduction, and two inserts -- one for festivals, the other on hill tribes. The pics are good -- not fabulous.
While Laos 2 was oh so good, Rough Guide's Laos 3 is oh so ordinary. If you're planning on a bit of straightforward touristing, taking in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng, you'll find it adequate -- and it does get a lot of brownie points for its background section. But if you're planning on extensive off-the-very-beaten track travel, you'd be well advised to look for an alternative -- the new Lonely Planet is excellent (review coming soon).
Buy Rough Guide's Laos 3 from Amazon.com
Have you used the latest edition of Rough Guide's Laos guidebook? If so, please add your feedback on the Travelfish forum here. Thanks!
Other book reviews
Lonely Planet Vietnam 9 -- LP's best try yet -- 8.5/10
For the first-time visitor to Vietnam, Lonely Planet's Vietnam 9 overall is a fine production -- and is easily Lonely Planet's best swing at Vietnam -- even if the style police are trying to ruin the show. It covers all the big-ticket destinations comprehensively, with detailed sleeping, eating, drinking and sights information ... Read the full review
Add your comment
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (19)
- All stories
- Angkor Hospital For Children
- Blue Dragon Children's Foundation
- COPE: Helping people move on
- Epic Arts
- Free the Bears Laos
- Gibbon Rehabilitation Project
- Helping Phuket's children in need
- Helping Siem Reap's rubbish dump families
- Helping Singapore's transient workers
- Helping the Karen of Burma
- Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam
- Khlong Toey Music Program
- Lifestart Foundation, Hoi An
- MyME Yangon
- Soi Dog Foundation
- Swim Vietnam
- Thai Freedom House, Chiang Mai
- The Samui Prison Project
- The SET Foundation
- Burma ()
- Cambodia (9)
- Indonesia (4)
- Laos ()
- Malaysia (1)
- Singapore ()
- Thailand (66)
- All stories
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 31 Thai islands
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- An extra day in Krabi
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Are Thailand’s cheap guesthouses disappearing?
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Chiang Mai's temples
- Corruption in Thailand
- Elephant's World Kanchanaburi
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Five days in Khao Lak, Thailand
- Great Thai food blogs
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Ko Chang's east coast
- Ko Lanta's best budget guesthouses
- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
- Ko Pha Ngan's best beaches in 2013
- Ko Phi Phi on a budget
- Ko Tao for non-divers guide
- Ko Yao Noi or Ko Yao Yai?
- Loy Krathong in Thailand
- Motorcycling the Chiang Rai loop
- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
- Phuket by night
- Phuket for kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Should I cancel my trip to Thailand? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Songkran festival in Thailand
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Full Moon Party
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The best places to stay on Ko Kut, Thailand
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- The changing face of Ko Lipe
- The road to Sangkhlaburi
- The road to Sangkhom
- Trekking in Thailand
- Two days in Kamphaeng Phet
- What are the alternatives to Bangkok?
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
- Where to stay on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (19)
- All stories
- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Great Hanoi cafes to chill out in
- Hanoi escape
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Saving Vietnam's bears
- Street food safety
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (4)
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (17)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Christmas and New Years in Southeast Asia
- Do I need reservations for my holiday?
- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Great river trips in Southeast Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
- Mass tourism in Southeast Asia
- Nine Asian upcountry hideaways
- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
- Ten thoughts on ten years with Travelfish
- Where is the best place in Southeast Asia for ...
- How do I? (8)
- Cycling Asia (12)
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (5)
- Photo essay (3)
- Guest blog (2)
- General (15)
- All stories
- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
- 10 dumb things I've done while travelling
- 34 ways to travel greener
- Asian animal experiences
- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
- The 211 country honeymoon
- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
- Tuk to the Road Charity ride
- Book reviews (5)
- Interviews (8)
- Explore Bangkok by BTS (18)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Asok
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Mo Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: On Nut
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phrom Phong
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchathewi
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng (S2)
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- Bangkok by skytrain: Siam
- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
Sign up for Travelfish Burp!
Our weekly wrap on Southeast Asian travel.
Click here to see a recent newsletter.