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 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.