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Laos is maybe the quietest country in SE Asia. The fact that it's landlocked has so far kept away the beach party crowd, and the government has tried to promote high-end `eco-tourism' as the country opens up to more international visitors.

This 7th edition of the LP is the first one not written by Joe Cummings, who so far as I know wrote all the LP's previous Laos guidebooks right back to the early 1990s, when Laos had virtually no hard-surfaced roads and no electricity outside Vientiane after 9pm (I first went there in 1994 as a young wide-eyed innocent). This latest LP has three different authors: Austin Bush, Mark Elliott and Nick Ray who lives in Cambodia and writes the LP's Cambodia guidebooks.

So, is it any good? Overall it's up-to-date and the writing style is a bit racier than the rather dry prose we've come to expect from Cummings. A lot of space is given over to Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng which comprise the key destinations for the 2- to 4-week tour of Laos and should not be missed, but all parts of the country are covered including some real backwaters in the North not visited by many.

No-one is going to visit Laos without Luang Prabang as a major destination on the itinerary and rightly so, as its stunning location nestled at the confluence of two rivers, the lush green jungle on the hills and its dozens of ornate Buddhist Wats give it a special charm. The local people continue to be delightful and charming without being `pushy' in any way and largely mind their own business. On our recent visit we were shocked however at how the morning alms-giving to the monks by the local people has now been ruthlessly exploited by tour promoters, who cynically charge money for your alms-giving photo-opportunity. This debases this ancient sacrament between the people and the monks by trivialising and commercialising it, and was the only real downer of the visit. A pity because Luang Prabang's World Heritage Site status has been a generally good thing and brought positive benefits i.e. no high-rise building over 4 floors is allowed, and a restriction on how much of the peninsula may be devoted to tourism which keeps the local community intact. None of the guide books really prepare the visitor for this, and LP is no exception.

As usual with the LP, the book is good on visas and planning. Unless you have an ASEAN passport, you're going to be charged for a visa when you enter Laos. If you arrive by air, especially to Luang Prabang, then you'll be made to queue for up to an hour (maybe more on busy days) to go through the labyrinthine and unnecessarily bureaucratic visa-issuing process (because at the end of the day, the government just wants your money so why be so inefficient about it?). If you enter overland, especially at the border crossing with Thailand, it's much quicker and easier. You'll need US$40 in cash and passport photos so go prepared.

The Lao currency, the Kip, has no coins, just banknotes - great thick wads of them as the denomination is so low. Make sure you get rid of it all when you leave, as outside Laos no-one will want it.

Laos is a real adventure and though it's much busier now with tourists than it used to be 10 or 15 years ago, it's still quiet and largely original, nowhere near as westernised as Thailand nor as populous and frantic as Vietnam, and much cleaner than Cambodia. It's a little jewel. Take a trip on the Mekong, visit Pakse, rent or buy a motorbike (but forget insurance - there's no such thing) and enjoy the freedom of touring at your own pace. Take your LP guide for back-up, and read it as you go.
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on 5 July 2014
I always use Lonely Planet guides and mostly this one was useful. However, although it was only recently updated before my trip, there were several aggravating errors which let it down. They were particularly annoying because they must have been known when the book was researched. A major bus station in Viencienne had loved to a new location outside of town. Surely this was being built, or at least planned, when the book researched prior to 2012 publication. This is really unacceptable for a backpackers bible. The official company tour company in Luang Namtha, recommended in the book, had closed several years before. The boat stop in Luang Prabang for the up river trip had moved - surely again, this was at least planned before 2012 publication.
I travelled to remote areas hoping to see wildlife. LP did explain the effects of hunting, but not that tour companies advertising wildlife-focused trips wouldn't actually be able to show you any/much willdife, even where hunting should have little impact. I am an ecologist and I have visited many parts of the world where locals hunt for food - I know what to expect and what not to.Laos is not set up to show wildlife to tourists and LP does not adequately explain this.
Not Lonely Planet's best effort.
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on 22 January 2016
Invaluable guide again. If you are familiar with LP you know what you are getting and they really are the best guide books in print.

Seperately - I would encourage all potential visitors to this amazing country to do so with haste. The locals will tell you tales of the Chinese moving in and the Laos governement selling off their land and heritage faster than you can make a beef laap (particuarly in the North but also around Vientienne). Go whilst it remains relatively frozen in time.
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I don't normally buy guide books, but I bought this just a couple of days ago as I'm off to Laos on Monday; yes, a bit of late research, but I'm going to meet my daughter, who's out there at the moment, and want to show off my knowledge to her. It's easy to read, being divided into sections covering the different areas of Laos; it's packed full of information, which is what we've come to expect from the Lonely Planet series. This is the latest edition, so hopefully all the guesthouses I've looked at will be up to date. My copy is now bristling with bright blue post-it notes and I can't wait to get there and sample it all for myself.

Thanks Lonely Planet people!

A rather late update (October 7th)...whilst this guide book proved very useful I think the Rough Guide books are better and have more useful information, especially on the "getting about" bits; the same bits in the Lonely Planet guide were often extremely confusing.
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on 16 May 2012
7th edition published 2010 - as good as ever with Lonely Planet but if you can afford the time to wait for the next version, due Feb 2014, do so. Well packaged so arrived promptly and in pristine condition; and of course Amazon's excellent price.
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on 13 December 2013
Travelling to LAOS early 2014.

Reads well on the surface, lot of content.

Historical and context information well written,easy reading
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on 6 May 2013
Whenever I travel I use a Lonely Planet guide and I'm almost never disappointed. This has all the info you need and more. I'd definitely recommend it.
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on 4 April 2014
Planning a long trip to Indochina so will take this along ! Looks like it'll be very useful but will see
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 27 November 2011
The seventh edition of Lonely Planet's guidebook about Laos was published in December 2010. It is written by Austin Bush, Mark Elliot and Nick Ray.

For the record: my evaluation of this book is based on two visits to Laos. The first time we went to southern Laos (Pakse, Champasak, Si Phan Don and the Bolaven plateau). The second time we went to northern Laos (the capital Vientiane and the former capital Luang Prabang). My evaluation of the book is based on the chapters about these places - plus the chapters with general information and historical background.

In most cases, this guidebook is a reliable and useful tool for anyone who wants to visit this small land-locked country (whose shape on the map looks a lot like Italy), but there are some flaws (see below). Here are some of the important points which are covered in the book:

1. Citizens of Asean (and Japan) can enter without a visa, but all other nationalities must have a visa to enter the country. Most nationalities can get the visa on arrival, but it must be paid in cash and with US dollars (or Euros or Thai Bath) and you must provide a passport-sized photo of yourself. The price of the visa depends on your nationality, it ranges from 30 to 42 US dollars (page 328).

2. There are several warnings about UXO, i.e. unexploded ordnance from "the secret war" which was a part of the second Indochina war (1954-1975). On page 190 they mention the UXO information centre in Phonsavan, which is run by MAG (Mines Advisory Group), a British organisation that has been helping to clear Laos's unexploded ordnance since 1994.

3. The authors also pay attention to environmental issues, especially the problems related to hydro-electric dams. A separate sidebar on page 81 has the headline "Developing the Mekong: Relieving Poverty or Dam Crazy?"

However, the authors do not mention the current and highly controversial project, the Xayaburi dam, which has been the subject of several articles in the Bangkok Post since 2011.

4. In the section about the Indochina war there is a separate sidebar about "the secret war" and the Hmong, the tribal minority which was recruited by the CIA to fight the Pathet Lao resistance movement (page 38). The text includes a reference to the Hmong general Vang Pao (who was born in 1929 and who died in January 2011).

5. On page 129 the authors mention the former special zone Saisombun (sometimes spelled Xaisomboun) which is located ca. 50 km east of Vang Vieng. In this area the CIA built a "secret city" called Long Cheng, from where the Hmong and the CIA conducted their "secret war."

Long Cheng is not mentioned in the Rough Guide to Laos. Here is a link to the fourth edition of this guidebook, which was published in January 2011: The Rough Guide to Laos.

6. The chapter about the south includes a separate sidebar about two companies which arrange a cruise on the Mekong River in southern Laos, from Pakse to Si Phan Don, the 4,000 Islands, near the Cambodian border. The first version runs for three days, while the second runs for five days (page 268). We tried the short version which was an interesting and enjoyable experience.

As far as I can see, these cruises on the Mekong River are not mentioned in the Rough Guide to Laos.

I like this guidebook, but I have to mention a few things which bother me:

(a) On page 271 the authors present the Arawan Riverside Hotel in Pakse with these words: "The five-star claim in their brochure is a tad ambitious, but it is one of the smarter establishments in southern Laos."

The hotel brochure makes no such claim. In fact, it does not say how many stars this hotel has. We stayed for two nights in this hotel, and we had some problems, so we talked to the management about them. I asked the assistant manager how many stars the hotel has. The answer was three stars. I should add that the hotel staff (including the manager) was very helpful and found a reasonable solution to our problems.

(b) The price level for local transport in Pakse mentioned in the book is unrealistically low. On page 273 they say a jumbo from the airport to town will cost you about 20,000 K. But all taxi drivers charged 80,000 for this trip. A tuk-tuk driver first demanded the same amount, later he went down to 50,000 and eventually settled for 40,000.

(c) In the beginning of the book there is a short section with colour illustrations called "Laos Highlights." Number 1 is about riverboats. The caption to the picture says: "Travelling on riverboats (p 142) is a highlight in Laos, but when the water level is low you might have to get out and push!"

I do not want to say this is not true, but I can say that this never happened to us.

(d) On page 41 - in a section about modern Laos - the authors mention the 25th Southeast Asian Games (usually called the SEA Games) which were held in Vientiane in December 2009: "Thousands of athletes attended from eleven Asean countries to compete in 28 sports."

In 2009 Asean had only ten members, and in 2010 when the book was published, the number was the same (it still is). East Timor (also known as Timor Leste) took part in these games, because this country is eventually going to join Asean, but nobody knows when this will happen. The members cannot agree on the timing. Singapore wants to wait, while Indonesia is eager to open the door for this small nation (which was the victim of a brutal Indonesian occupation from 1975 to 1999).

(e) In the chapter about Vientiane, there is a long section about Pha That Luang, described as the "most important national monument in Laos" (page 95). A separate sidebar on the next page has the headline "Viewing Pha That Luang." The text describes the first, the second, and the third level of this monument. One important fact is not mentioned here: there is no access to this monument. You may walk around it, inside the monastery, but you are not allowed to enter. The monument is always closed to the public. It is only open one day each year, during the festival which is celebrated in November (and which is mentioned on page 100).

How can the authors present a monument in great detail and then fail to mention that there is no access to it, unless you happen to arrive on the one day of the year when it is open to the public?

In most cases, this guidebook is a reliable and useful tool for anyone who wants to visit Laos, but as you can see, there are some flaws, and therefore I cannot give it more than four stars.
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on 23 January 2016
lots of useful inforamtion. Very pleased
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