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Lonely Planet Vietnam (Travel Guide) Paperback – 10 Feb 2012
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Lonely Planet guides are, quite simply, like no other. --New York Times
Top customer reviews
After this experience I didn't trust this book with the food. It's good for taking and showing you to different places but food wise... It's so far the only place that I have visited using this book. I'll do it again someday and let you know my opinion ;)
...however, I would not recommend you take this book with you!
Please understand though, this isn't a *bad* guidebook, it's just that it misses the mark in so many different ways and in a competitive market why choose a duff one? I've used Lonely Planet almost exclusively over the last 20 years as they are usually so good. This one, however, completely failed to live up to expectations. I'm sorry to say that this book was the biggest disappointment of my holiday and it therefore only gets 1 star from me.
Why is it so bad? Well, a number of things.
1. The format has changed recently - and I appreciate that trying to make changes to what people are used to is hard - but I really don't *get* change-for-the-sake-of-change, which is what we have here. Before we had a few helpful pages relating to planning your trip - suggested routes, yearly climate, festivals perhaps. Now we have a 'how to plan your holiday section' at the front which is a spoon-fed, idiots guide (Do you like temples, boys and girls? Well, let's go here then...); they've got rid of the time-zoned map of the world at the back, which was really useful when travelling and planning or if you wanted to show your new friend where you come from; sights now have little icons next to the title so you 'instantly' know if they are an 'LP top sight' (an 'eye' icon) or if it is free to enter (groundbreakingly, a 'FREE' icon) - rather than in previous editions where you were maliciously forced to waste precious pico-seconds of your holiday by reading the first line of the carefully researched text under the name of the sight in order to find out the opening times and entry costs; similarly there are new labels next to each sight to categorise it for you - and this is, again, rather silly because the number of categories is legion and they are all "bleedin' obvious" (in Dalat, for example, the Xuan Hong Lake is a `Lake'. Well, who'd've thought? And, the Dalat Flower Gardens are in fact - wait for it - `Gardens'. No! Never!) It's just a number of little things but I don't appreciate the book dumbing itself down and treating me like a moron.
2. In terms of content, I felt that some places lacked information - the thoroughness that I would expect from an 11th Edition was not there for places like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; I would also question some of the recommended bars, restaurants & cafes and similarly, I wondered why certain establishments were not included; some places - in particular Mui Ne - I felt were very hard done by, with only a cursory mention compared to what was there.
3. Use of language occasionally confused me. The book is clearly English, with English spellings and phraseology but then American idioms creep in. Why? Choose one and stick to it!
4. The book includes a section on Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor in Cambodia - another place on our travels. You might think this is very helpful - and indeed it is...up to a point. Lovely 3D-effect map of (some) of the temples and titbits of info but I'm afraid it falls into the category of 'enough information to be dangerous'. Sure it gives you a few recommendations for sleeping, eating and drinking in Siem Reap but there's no real depth there. And since you're going to another country, where's the equally helpful reference section about currency, health, dangers, tipping, language, etcetcetc?
5. But finally, my major gripe with this book is the maps. What's the point of a guide book without maps you can read?! A very good question I hear you say.
Firstly, the page is white, the streets are everso slightly grey and the `map pins' are in light blue. Brilliant! Moreover, since the pages are so thin that the text printed on the back of the page shines through, this makes the maps very difficult to read even in a good light and downright impossible at dawn, dusk or at night.
I suspect the reason they have done this is because Lonely Planets are being illegally copied and sold cheaply on the streets of Vietnam and other SE Asia towns and they (LP) are trying to hinder these pirates. I'm sorry for LP on this one and I don't know what to do about it. However, I do believe that if I buy a genuine, brand new LP guidebook, I should get maps that are readable.
The second thing about the maps is that there are some inaccuracies. Whichever LP you buy there will always be something not quite right on one or more of the maps - however, this seemed to be somewhat above average. Things change, and I know there has to be a cut-off date for a new edition of the book - but on top of not being able to work out where the streets are on the page, inaccurate mapping doesn't help.
Thirdly, I felt some of the maps were lacking. Using Mui Ne as an example again - they go on about the 'strip' along the beach and the location of places at various kilometre marks but the scale is so small that all these places are practically on top of each other. It would be more useful if they'd contrived to include kilometre markings as well.
And the final gripe about maps is that they've done another change-for-the-sake-of-change thing...for the last 20 years I've used LP maps where the place are listed by Place Name - Reference Number (the `Map Pin') - Grid Reference. Now it's Reference Number - Place Name - Grid Reference. It's amazing how annoying it is to have to keep flicking between the pages because you automatically read the Name first, then your eyes pick up a number of some sort and so you go to the map to try and find it. But you have only read the Grid Reference and failed to take in the Reference Number because it's not where you expected it to be and so you have to turn back. Sounds trivial? Try doing this several times a day, everyday, in a new, foreign place with a map that you can't actually work out where the streets are going at 35+degrees heat when you're tired or hungry or thirsty - trust me, it's annoying.
On the positive side, the new edition contains more photos - not many more, but a few. I know that previous editions have been lacking in colour photos and it's something that my wife has commented on. It doesn't bother me either way, but for those that like it, there are now a few more pretty pictures.
In summary, I would wholeheartedly recommend that you visit Vietnam! I would also recommend you visit Cambodia (we only visited Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor, just outside) but the place is amazing and we will be going back soon to explore the rest of the country.
BUT! I advise you not to buy this book. If this is the way all Lonely Planets are going I won't be buying any more of them. I'm willing to bet there's another guide book out there that credits you with some degree of intelligence, with maps you can read and a better section on Angkor.
.LPs are still almost vital for getting practical information all in one place e.g. visas, border crossing, vague budget ideas, travel options.
. Still plenty of options for accommodation in all budget ranges.
. Some good restaurant suggestions (see also bad...!)
. Still good at helping you get off the super worn tourist path but this was not as easy as I expected in Vietnam (nothing to do with the LP just an observation).
.Everything is a must see (and they really are not). LPs still seem to cater solely to the around the world wanderer with 3 years to kill. They're not so good when you have 3 weeks and really want to know what the MUST sees are. For this I would suggest a Frommer's guide (yes they are more upmarket but you don't have to stay in their recommended hotels)as they managed to rate sites a lot better and really allowed us to whittle down our list.
. The new format. If you are used to the old LP set up then these new ones are frustrating. Information is not in the same places or is non existent (self-catering info has all but disappeared - annoying!)I would recommend using flags to label pages with e.g. visa, border etc info as these pages can be in totally random places that seem to bear no relevance to the information next to them...
. Danger is everywhere. I'm a pretty cautious traveller, I watch my bag and lock up my stuff when leaving it in a hotel room but this LP would have you believe you were going to get mugged or ripped off at every corner. Bit of a downer pre-trip really and not our experience at all.
. Ho Chi Minch restaurant suggestions - well one in particular. "if you were asked where you spent your last night in Saigon this should be the answer" (can't remember the name but read that line and run) this restaurant is baaaaaad. Weird surroundings, weird staff, weird food... go somewhere else!
. LP maps - yup they've got no better! Still better (in my experience) than Rough Guides and Frommers though... good luck!
If you want to go to Siem Reap, you're treated to nice full colour maps, why coudn't they do this for the rest of the book? Anyway, will have to see if I can get hold of a Rough Guide before I go....
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