How useful is a guidebook in Thailand and southeast Asia?

The travel guides are, and it’s true, a really good source of various useful information for the traveller. It is also a good material on which you can rely on, and I insist on the “material”.

The man as we know him today has been raised and molded since he was born to be used to consume all kind of things that artificially make his life more interesting and provides him some kind of accommodating happiness on the behalf of capitalism. Basically, you are dependent on many objects and trends that comfort you. I am a pretty sure you have one of these things within arm’s reach right now : telephone, car, tv, cigarettes, facebook, and so on. And these are for the common stuff but I could go on like this for hours. Imagine you have to live without all this, just like that, starting tomorrow. This could scare you way more than you could imagine. Do you remember what happened during the shortages of gasoline for example ? Everyone was rushing at the stations’ gates hoping to get some of the precious liquid and be comforted (but we don’t know for how long). The fear makes the man weaker and having some object that he thinks he need and can actually touch makes him feel safer.

Anyway, all this to say that a big and heavy as hell travel guidebook is comforting, but not completely essential. What if you have planned to visit four or five different countries ? would you really carry as many guides on your ass ? You’d better bring the bible with you, if you want to be comforted, at least you can pray.

In my sense, it is important to have at least a map of the place you are going to. It can be anticipated, as well as you can just find it when you arrive (sometimes your guesthouse or a rental-bike store can provide this).

And before making my point, I have to admit that I carried the latest edition of the lonely planet and I tried not to damage it too much (before leaving), so here is my feedback.

The massive convergence issue

- “Hi, do you have a room ?”
- “Sorry, we’re full”

If you are showing up in the “best guesthouse” recommended by your guidebook, do not be surprised if you hear that.

Keep in mind that you are not the only person to travel with the freakin lonely planet, and since it is comforting to go somewhere recommended by your book, well, be comforted because you won’t be alone!

Let me tell you this little anecdote : I happened to do the “temple tour” suggested by the lonely planet in Chiang Mai, where they suggested to make a lunch break in that good restaurant. Well, the food wasn’t bad, it was pretty good actually BUT, as I looked around me, I could see that I was 100% surrounded by bunches of tourists who did just like me, and half of them had their lonely planet lyingon the table… It was not genuine Thailand, so to say. At least the WiFi here was really fast and I could backup some of my photos.

The weight of the thingy

This is a very simple argument but it is totally justified. The Lonely Planet Thailand has over 800 pages and weighs exactly… wait for it… 1.45lbs. If your backpack is 26 lbs, this represents 5.5% of the total weight.

And believe me, we always feel like we don’t have enough room, especially if we want to buy some souvenirs or some clothes. 1.45 lbs is already too much. And remember that the lightest, the freest.

You are limiting your potential of encounters

As said before, all the people that use a guidebook and act according to it, are very likely to meet each other in the same places and in different cities. And since many people are following a “common route” to see the major points of interest, it is not just a coincidence or a “small world” when you meet those people again.

So you potentially meet less people, and also potentially less interesting people.

In the facts, the solutions and alternatives

I am not saying that having a guidebook is bad, because it is worth it in some way, the maps are worth it but does this really deserve an overweight of 1.45 lbs to carry up his ass ?

Out of the three countries I visited, I only had the paper version of the LP Thailand. But I also had many other electronic versions of guidebooks for Laos and Cambodia, and some more for Thailand as well. They were stored on my smartphone as pdf files and I could consult them at any time without carrying a whole library. I was well comforted though! ;-)

But in the facts, it is kind of annoying to read a guidebook through a small size screen device big like a credit card. Eventually you just use them less. When I arrived to Laos, I didn’t really use my electronic guidebooks. I could manage differently without a problem, and I had company by this time so we were just going as we felt was right for us. We’ve never been really disappointed by doing so.

For example in Luang Prabang, we landed in this guesthouse where bananas were free as well as the coffee. In addition, the owners were super nice and they would always say something nice to us or actually share their meals.

I think there is no “best accommodation”. It just depends on how you perceive it, and the best thing to do is to go where it feels right and not just because it has been recommended by the lonely planet.

I have this counter example in Ayuthaya (one of my worst memories). I first showed up at this recommended guesthouse. For starters, it turned out to be full. Afterwards I went to the second recommended one which was located in the middle of a “touristic” street, you would just run into tourists, my room was crappy and at night, there were live concerts playing just across the street and my room had basically no noise insulation…

Anyway, the electronic version of a guidebook is a good alternative. Just don’t overuse it because  anyhow, you can always find plenty of information not far from where you need it. And if you don’t, you can always ask the tuk tuk drivers. They can bring you to some places they know, and don’t believe they are all scammers because once again : there is no best accommodation.

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