The first book in the Lonely Planet empire is still one of the best books to buy for travelling in South East Asia. This 988-page mammoth is full of detailed information about every country in South East Asia and great information on traveling between them.

I have mostly used the book while living in Cambodia and not only did I go to places recommended by Lonely Planet, but I often found myself at recommended places incidentally, just because they happened to be a hot-spot in town.

They also do a great job of giving admission prices and information about the big tourist sites, and their Angkor Wat, Siem Reap guide is perfect for people who want a quick but thorough guide rather than an entire book on the subject. Lonely Planet is never intended to be used as a sole guide, but as a starting point, and in that it is excellent.

The hotels and hostels recommended in Lonely Planet South East Asia on a Shoestring are good, but due to the nature of publishing, sometimes doesn’t have the most up-to-date information. For example, sometimes the most popular guesthouses in town have sprung up recently and haven’t been listed yet. And others are so small, they probably will never make the guide. However, the recommended houses are inexpensive, good quality, and in the best parts of town for a traveler. If it’s in Lonely Planet it’s probably going to be clean, busy, and good value.

The restaurants that they recommend are often on the same street as plenty of other good spots to eat.

The South East Asia restaurants that they recommend are often on the same street as plenty of other good spots to eat, so they’re really guiding the reader to good parts of town rather than just to specific eateries. With a 900+ page guide to 11 South East Asian countries this is probably the most economical way to go about it and it works. They also list places where a lonely traveler is likely to meet like-minded people to make friends with for the night, the rest of the journey, or even for life.

One of the best things about the Lonely Planet South East Asia on a Shoestring guide is that each country’s guide is written by someone who has spent many, many years living and traveling in that particular nation. They know the areas and this is reflected in their diverse recommendations and spot-on descriptions.

Another fanastic feature of the Lonely Planet South East Asia on a Shoestring guide is their lists of places to dine or shop for a cause. The book is sprinkled with lists of charity-run shops, restaurants, and cafes where you can enjoy a local experience while giving back. Their historical and cultural introductions are also invaluable. The guide manages to present a thorough and educational background without boring the reader with a 300-page thesis. They tell the reader what they need to know and often refer back to the information when it becomes relevant throughout the guide. LP really tries to emphasize holistic experience, not just seeing the sights and visiting the bars, but understanding- or at least attempting to understand- the cultural and historical context of the people and places.

I love my Lonely Planet Asia on a Shoestring guide, and judging from the amount of them I see running around town, other travelers love them too. The guide is a little big to be traveling with though, so if you can, get it on a Kindle. However, big or small, it is definitely the best $25 you’ll spend before heading on your big Southeast Asia adventure.

Buy Lonely Planet Southeast Asia: On a Shoestring

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Your thoughts on "Review: Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on a Shoestring"

  • Excellent review, Kat! I didn't know that the guide included information about charity-run places. Is this something LP does standard in their guides? It's a huge selling point for me.

    on August 21, 2009 at 2:08 pm Reply
  • I think I am the only person who prefers to search on the net rather than read books! I find that the content of these books to be quite old and often there are better joints in town or newer ones have opened up since the last edition of the book got published. These books are typically published 2 years ago & the content is not up to date. But that is my 2 cents!

    on August 30, 2009 at 8:06 pm Reply
  • @Carla - Good question. We'll try and get in touch with someone at Lonely Planet and find out. @Inn - In part you're right. Paper guidebooks have very long lead times and are published long after they are researched. However, they do bring a lot of trusted information together in one place and allow you starting point for planning. We're keen to know how you start researching a place you've never visited: A google search? or do you have some favourite sites which give you an overview of the destination and also include things to do and places to stay?

    on August 31, 2009 at 11:15 am Reply
  • @Craig & Linda - "Travel Guidebooks = old information". Of all the places & holidays I have booked, i have not yet read a travel guide and we travel a lot. I use google, Yahoo & Bing (latest) to search for places to see, unique places to stay etc. There is plethora of information available online & good places esp. new ones are not listed in these guidebooks. If you were to take New Delhi B&B's (for eg) - you will find that the guidebooks are aptly clueless - while online, it is a different story all together. Go on do a Google,yahoo or Bing or for that matter Twitter search for New Delhi B&B's or some other New Delhi bed and breakfast term and then search for them in any of the travel books & you will see what i mean!

    on September 2, 2009 at 8:25 am Reply
    • Just heard back from Lonely Planet: In answer to the question, I consulted our Commissioning Editor for Southeast Asia: 'We do, as standard, ask authors to seek out voluntourism stuff and any good not-for-profit organisations that help to support the community socially or finanically for the guidebooks. It just depends on what they find in the destination as to what is included.  Most of our Southeast Asia titles do. 'Dining for a Cause',  'Good Cause Dining' etc... have been features in a number of our editions in Southeast Asia titles.’

      on September 4, 2009 at 10:46 am Reply
  • Sorry for the delay in response, I just got to South Africa a couple of days ago and I'm in sort of a remote area where the internet connections are... less than reliable. :-) However, SA is beautiful and I can't wait to start writing about it. Meanwhile, it seems like Craig & Linda have answered all of your Q's, thanks so much you two!!

    on September 4, 2009 at 9:53 pm Reply
  • After travelling a lot of South East Asia a few years ago I must admit that this book helped me a lot and Kat has done a great job describing the best parts. The most useful thing for me was finding good affordable places to stay when arriving alone in a new town. It helped me get settled and get my bearings without panicking about safety and costs.

    on March 3, 2010 at 4:19 pm Reply
  • The Lonely Planet Guides are legendary must have in your library of travel books. These publications are referenced and used to dream of far away places when planning your get-away and as a source whilst on your travels. The comments that the publications are often lagging behind in content, is true, however it is designed to guide you! It encourages thinking and in conjunction with personal computers will most likely get you to the place you did not know you were looking for. Isn't this what travel is all about? Experiencing the unexpected, however feeling safe in the knowledge that you have some reference and boundary albeit sometimes a bit behind the time. It is pointing you in the general direction! I personally would go to the Lonely Planet website as a final check for the information I have sourced is in fact relevant and current.

    on March 10, 2010 at 6:38 pm Reply
  • I am about to go to South Est Asia for a few months and wasn't sure if this was the righr guide. I had the one of Central America and it was pretty good but about this one I read a few bad reviews. After reading this I think I will buy it. Thanks

    on August 3, 2011 at 8:17 am Reply
  • Hi Giulia, just be careful with restaurant and accommodation options, as this book will have fallen further out of date since this review was originally published.

    on August 3, 2011 at 6:56 pm Reply
  • Thank you. I saw that they published the new one in 2010 so it should be updated and I usually have a look in the internet for hostels. Never book in advance but at least I like to know where I am going and what to expect. Restaurants..I usually find them walking in the street. I need a guide with allo these countries in order to plan my route, decide where to go and what to see. I'm about to do the world trip and don't have lot of space (6 Continents and can't buy a guide for each country). Have you any idea about the Rough guide South Est Asia on a budget?

    on August 4, 2011 at 2:53 am Reply
  • I think that's the perfect way to use these books: route planning and an idea of what to see and do in each location. They also come in handy for emergency fall-back plans re: hostels or restaurants, and for squashing all manner of SE Asian bugs. We looked through the Rough Guide and the LP when we were travelling in SE Asia, and they were quite similar. Rough Guides tend to give more of a culture perspective, and LP more of a backpacker-with-cash perspective, but both cover similar things in this region. I honestly couldn't pick one, but Asia is Lonely Planet's starting ground and speciality. We found dozens of photocopied and bound guidebook knock-offs throughout Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos ... I'm sure they're in other places too, and they were all US$10 or under - maybe as low as $5.

    on August 4, 2011 at 3:13 am Reply

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