இ Fuzzy Wuzzy's Summary:
ѾѾѾ Somewhat recommended, with reservations and only lukewarm fuzzies.
As someone who has traveled six times to China on multi-week vacations so far, and I might be visiting China again for the seventh time later this year, I am always keen on stocking up on China travel guides and knowledge about places to see and things to do while I am there.
The Lonely Planet "Discover ..." travel books are a series of compact travel guides that are intended to provide the essential information about a country while being compact, light in weight and small in size, and replete with the heavy use of full-color photographs and basic maps throughout its pages. While this travel guide's 430 pages is much more compact than Lonely Planet's far more thorough coverage of China in their similarly-priced 1048-page Lonely Planet China (Country Travel Guide) book, I get the impression that their "Discover ..." series is more meant to compete with the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides and Apa Insight Guides which, for years, were the main travel guide books that offered plenty of tantalizing color photos, albeit at the expense of informative text. Frommer's and Fodor's have also gotten into the "In Full Color" competition to offer more color photography in their travel guides too.
This travel book provides decent very-high-level coverage of the main highlights of China. It offers suggestions for China's top 25 experiences (which I mostly agree with), 7-day, 10-day, and 2-week itineraries, some general trip planning information, and various general, but very superficial, maps are interspersed throughout the book, with a very basic "Beijing and Hong Kong City Maps" pull-out map attached to the very end of the book. The end of the book has a very useful "Survival Guide" section that describes various essential information that you should know. In fact, I would have preferred that this section was moved more towards the very beginning of the book. The very end of the book, squashed in right before the book's index, has two pages of very basic word pronunciation tips for both Mandarin and Cantonese that may, at best, be useful for communicating with a partially bilingual hotel concierge in a larger city, but is too basic, fragmented, and useless if you either are in a smaller town or go off the beaten path by yourself.
The one main problem with this book that warrants my 3-star rating is that it is just WAY TOO SUPERFICIAL in all aspects of covering such a huge country! I would have the same misgivings if this small travel book was called "Discover the United States" or "Discover Western Europe". And the book has spotty or missing coverage of some entire areas of the country that are both very interesting to visit and have lots of history and sightseeing spots in them.
The book divides coverage of China into four regions: "Beijing & the Great Wall", "Xi'an and the North", "Shanghai & the Yangzi Region", "Hong Kong & the South". This is like creating a compact travel guide to the U.S. and then simplistically dividing up the country into "New England", "the South", "the West Coast", and "the Midwest", while ignoring the Southwest (which would be analogous to China's Silk Road with its sparser-populated deserts) and and leaving out the Mountain West (which would be analogous to China's mountainous Sichuan province). Yunnan, the Sichuan province in the mountainous southwest, and the huge western part of China that encompasses the "Silk Road" areas are very unceremoniously lumped together into a scant meager 19-page chapter called "Best of the Rest", and this chapter hardly begins to cover the "best" of this rest. For Sichuan, Chengdu is only mentioned in one sentence and the reader is erroneously misled into thinking that the only thing worth doing in Chengdu is to go see pandas! For the Silk Road section, the very fascinating history of the Silk Road is completely omitted, and the city of Urumqi, with its rich multi-cultural blend of 15+ ethnic groups, is not even mentioned once. Northeast China is also totally omitted from the book, even though Harbin is the tenth most populated city in the country and Harbin is known for its beautiful ice sculptures every winter and its deep-rooted Russian heritage.
The authors also seem to be particularly enamored with the ancient city of Pingyao, and the city is mentioned a lot in this book. Pingyao is a well-preserved example of a traditional Han Chinese city, founded in the 14th century. Its urban fabric shows the evolution of architectural styles and town planning in Imperial China across five centuries. Even though Shanghai now appears to be the financial center of China, during the 19th and early 20th centuries of the late Qing Dynasty, Pingyao was the main banking and financial center in China. I have visited all around Pingyao before, and you can walk down the ancient main street and imagine how the city was like 500 years ago, just as you can walk down the narrow alleyways (hutongs) in Beijing and look at the old courtyard houses to momentarily distance yourself from the rapid modernization that is happening all over China. But this ancient main street in Pingyao is now lined on both sides by a lot of generic souvenir shops. And just as the ancient hutongs in Beijing are steadily disappearing by China's constant onslaught of mass-modernization, you do not have to look far beyond this ancient Pingyao main street to realize that visiting this area is a bit like visiting the French Quarter in New Orleans - in both cases, the main people walking around are tourists. But unlike New Orleans' French Quarter where there are plenty of good clubs and restaurants, Pingyao's old main street is just lined with small souvenir shops. I used to associate Lonely Planet travel books as being targeted at travelers who want to get off the beaten path, leaving the touristy areas to readers of Fodor's and Frommer's travel books. So I was disappointed that the authors focused so much attention on Pingyao, while ignoring the culturally and historically fascinating areas of northeast China, Sichuan province, and the Xinjiang "Silk Road" areas in western China.
The idea target audience for this book is a person who falls into both of the following criteria: (1) You are traveling with a fully-guided package tour group that has everything already arranged and pre-planned for you with respect to accommodations, transportation, sightseeing, language translation help, and accompanying historical and guided commentary and advice throughout the trip, and (2) you are traveling very light and only taking one carry-on luggage and one backpack with you. If either of those criteria do not apply to you, you are better off totally bypassing this book and getting another full-coverage book on China. Even though I like most of Lonely Planet's travel book offerings, I also think that the current Lonely Planet China (Country Travel Guide) book is both outdated and incomplete and spotty in coverage. Currently, my two favorite full-coverage China books are China (Eyewitness Travel Guides) and The Rough Guide to China (Rough Guide China). But as with trying to cover the U.S. or Western Europe all in one single book, there are books that focus only on one area of China which offer better details with more depth if you are mainly going to visit specific areas in the country.
If you are totally planning a trip to China by yourself, this travel guide would make a great "starter book" to read, and whet your China travel appetite, before you acquire more in-depth books and maps once you start planning, deciding upon, and finalizing your itinerary. But you will definitely need much more detailed information than what this book offers, either by reading other books or researching on the Internet, before departing on your trip. Just reading this compact guide by itself is only sufficient if you are joining a package tour group to China where everything has already been planned out for you. And even if you are just following along with a pre-planned tour group, you should read other books and research your tour group's itinerary to learn more about the rich and diverse background and history of the places that you are about to see since China is a country that is very rich and vast in both its history and diversity of cultures and scenery.
So I rate this book 3 stars if you are just going to China with a fully-guided tour group, but I would rate this book only 2 stars if you are trying to use this book to plan a trip by yourself.