The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Now in Lonely Planet Vietnam 2007

I finally got my hands on the New Lonely Planet Vietnam 2007 (released this month). I was delighted to see that I was credited in the back by name, and my own website was recommended in the book. I was disappointed to see however that some of the same mistakes (which I pointed out to them) have been carried over from the past 2 or 3 editions, without being corrected.

Overall it’s a good guidebook. This edition is written by Nick Ray, a veteran writer for the region who lives in Cambodia, and two authors who seem to be newcomers to the area, Peter Dragicevich and Regis St. Louis. One has to wonder if Lonely Planet could have written better bios for latter two. When the noteworthy connections to Vietnam listed are that one’s “first taste of Vietnam was in the restaurants of Mebourne and Sydney” or the other read a lot about the country, it’s probably not a great selling point.

As always, Lonely Planet has the best, most durable binding of any guidebook (that's actually one of the many reasons not to buy the cheap, pirated photocopies you find in Vietnam). Surprisingly, it's also one of the lengthiest, yet manages to still be the smallest and lightest due to their choice of paper stock. Unfortunately this has a drawback—because the paper is so thin and the lettering tends to bleed through, the maps are all very difficult to read in this edition.

The book has great expanded sections on Vietnam history and Minorities. Otherwise, the sections unrelated to specific destinations were much more abbreviated than guidebooks from other publishers. This has the advantage of not overwhelming the reader with too much information (a problem with other guides), but it means readers seeking more in-depth background information must consult other texts.

The well-organized restaurants and hotels sections, along with the use of icons in the text, make the sections much easier to skim.

Lonely Planet is the only guide to offer a phrasebook that includes sections for the most common hill tribes (albeit a small section). They are also the only guidebook to offer reasonably correct information on Visas—particularly business visas.

I did find the layout and style of the book unattractive compared to some of the other guides on the market, especially Rough Guides.

My main complaint, like any expat, I’m sure, is that the guidebook tends to focus on attractions, activities and restaurants catering mainly to foreign tourists. I feel like in many instances it misses the “real” Vietnam. This is a problem with all popular Vietnam guidebooks on the market however. I think this stems from the fact that none, to my knowledge, are written by residents of Vietnam.

Overall, it’s probably still the best guidebook on the market, with an encyclopedic presentation of the country.


Adam said...

One potential problems you have if the authors are not familiar with the area, either by living there or through extensive prior experience, is that they don't know anything about a venue unless they go visit it themselves on their very brief research trip. If they don't have time or money to check it out themselves--and they often won't--then they have to take someone else's word for it (which could be the previous writer, other tourists they meet, or other reading/reference material). I think that's a big reason why you have the same mistakes grandfather into successive editions of all the guidebooks (for all the publishers).

I suspect the recommendation on the Zoo and Botanical Gardens in HCMC is a good example of that. LP strongly encourages people not to visit them, which I suspect is based on a very old review from earlier editions (or else a blatant anti-zoo bias). Having worked at 2 of the finest zoos in the USA, met with the curator in HCMC, and worked with a number of the species in the HCMC zoo myself, I know that the HCMC zoo is probably one of the finest zoos in S.E. Asia. Granted--not every enclosure is nice--the elephants a case in point--but most of them rival conditions in zoos back home. It's a great place to see native Vetnamese animal life that you probably won't ever spot in the wild. It's a great supplemental experience if you've gone hiking in one of Vietnam's national parks or forest settings, much like seeing the national history museum in Phnom Penh after you visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Adam said...

The new authors seem to rely heavily on what the old authors have written, and word of mouth from other travelers, because they have a limited amount of time to reasearch the books (since none of them actually live in Vietnam, and many -from all the various guidebooks- have no prior experience in Vietnam). Making matters worse, all the guidebook publishers sit on the guidebooks for 6 months to 1 year (after the writter has already finished their part--which may have taken 6 months to 1 year to complete themselves) before it ends up on store shelves. When you realize the info in even the newest guidebooks is at least 1-2 years old at best by the time it hits the shelved, hopefully you'd see it's not a good idea to depend solely on the advice of a guidebook.

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