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 (4)
- Burma (3)
- Cambodia (19)
- All stories
- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
- Angkorian traffic woes
- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
- The best places to stay on Cambodia's islands
- The Death Highway
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Why you should go to Cambodia
- Indonesia (13)
- All stories
- A funeral in Toraja, Sulawesi
- Climbing Rinjani
- How to hire a boat in Indonesia: Without drowning
- Learn to surf in Bali
- Medewi: A great Bali getaway
- Mountain biking in Bali: A ride in the woods
- The Gili islands: Which is the right one for you?
- Ubud bird watching: From waterhens to witchcraft
- Ubud shopping guide
- Village trekking in Tana Toraja
- Weekend in Nusa Penida
- Yogya's student scene
- Laos (14)
- All stories
- Best budget rooms in Luang Prabang 2013
- Elephant trekking in Laos
- Exploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
- Huay Xai to Pak Tha by slowboat
- Is Lao Airlines safe to fly?
- Laos' vanishing elephants
- Luang Prabang escape
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
- Pi Mai Lao in Luang Prabang: In 1999
- Southern Laos by scooter
- The Gibbon Experience
- The Phonsavan adventure
- Vientiane's Chinatown
- Malaysia (6)
- Singapore (9)
- Thailand (59)
- All stories
- 10 Bangkok galleries worth a look-see
- 10 Thai treks aside from Chiang Mai
- 24 Hours in Bangkok: Sukhumvit to Siam Square
- 5 Southern Thai towns to lose time in
- A Thai homestay in Ayutthaya
- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Andaman Sea island hopper
- Ayutthaya temple tour
- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Charoen Krung Road
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
- Chiang Dao getaway
- Corruption in Thailand
- Eating on the edge
- Exploring Lamphun
- Exploring the Lungs of Bangkok
- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
- How to do Khao Yai National Park
- Khao San Road safety and scams
- 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: the islands you're looking for
- 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.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- 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?
- Which beach on Ko Samui?
- Which island in Trang?
- Vietnam (29)
- All stories
- A short break in Nha Trang
- A Weekend in Can Tho
- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
- Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam
- Con Dao escape
- Do nothing and see the best of Hanoi
- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
- Ha Long Bay conclusions
- Ha Long Bay for backpackers
- Ha Long Bay for budget-busters
- Ha Long Bay for flashpackers
- Hanoi escape
- Hanoi or Saigon?
- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- 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
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
- Which is the best street food tour in Hanoi?
- Accommodation guides (18)
- All stories
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2005 Top guesthouses in Chiang Mai
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Hanoi
- 2006 Top guesthouses in Phnom Penh
- 2006 Top guesthouses on Ko Phi Phi
- 2006 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
- 2009 Top Phnom Penh guesthouses
- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The changing face of Khao San Road
- Travel with kids (7)
- Opinion & advice (14)
- All stories
- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
- 10 reasons to travel independently
- A year's worth of travel for 2013
- Beach hideaways in 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
- 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
- How do I? (11)
- All stories
- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
- Bangkok to Siem Reap
- Catching a train in Thailand
- Catching a train in Vietnam
- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
- Ko Chang to Phu Quoc Island
- Siem Reap to Ko Chang
- Stops between Bangkok & Chiang Mai
- Visa run from Thailand to Burma
- Cycling Asia (13)
- All stories
- 24 hours in Bangkok
- An Angkor cycling guide
- An introduction
- Battambang, bamboo trains & guides
- Confessions of a "cheating cyclist"
- Cycles of all sorts
- Ha Long Bay independently
- Ko Samet Vs Pattaya
- Muay Thai night
- Phonsavan and Luang Prabang
- The hills of Vietnam
- The road less travelled
- Tubing in Vang Vieng
- Health and safety (6)
- Money and finance (4)
- Diving guides (6)
- 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 (15)
- All stories
- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- 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
- Bangkok by skytrain: Sanam Pao
- Bangkok by skytrain: Saphan Taksin
- 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.