Lonely Planet Vietnam 10th Ed. Paperback – Jul 2 2009
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"Down to earth, accurate information for every budget, enthusiastically written." -- Travel and Leisure --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Londoner of sorts, Nick Ray harks from Watford, the sort of town that makes you want to travel. He studied history and politics at university, which condemned him to be drawn to strange events in strange places across the globe. After stints with London magazines and tour leading in countries as diverse as Vietnam and Morocco, he hooked up with Lonely Planet in 1998 and has worked on more than 20 titles over the following years. Cambodia is his backyard and he has worked on several editions of the Cambodia guide, as well as Southeast Asia on a shoestring and that international bestseller Cycling Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia. He is also happy exploring the neighbourhood and has worked on Lonely Planet guides covering Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. Southeast Asia may be home, but he is not averse to mad missions in Afreeka and has been known to hang around in tourist hotspots such as Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
When not exploring the globe for Lonely Planet, Nick writes articles for leading magazines and newspapers, including The Sunday Times and Wanderlust, and leads and lectures on tours for leading travel companies and international organisations. He also works as a location scout and manager for the world of television and film, including Tomb Raider, Two Brothers and countless documentaries for the BBC, Discovery and National Geographic.
He currently lives in Phnom Penh, but is just as likely to be found in Siem Reap, Luang Prabang or Hoi An, three of his favourite places in the region. To date, he has sampled the beers of more than 70 countries and one day hopes to have tried them all. Primus of Rwanda comes in scary sized bottles and Salva Vida of Honduras has to be the best name for a beer, but it is hard to beat the crisp flavour of Beer Lao, best served on draft on the banks of the Mekong in Vientiane.
Favourite destination: It has to be the best of the Mekong
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Vietnam 9 covers all the big-ticket destinations comprehensively, with detailed sleeping, eating, drinking and sights information. There's a detailed orientation section, loads of maps, crystal clear photos and lots of general information. Good coverage on most of the border crossings is included and the transportation information is pretty easy to digest -- if a little confusing at times. A series of suggested itineraries, while not overly imaginative, remain useful for first time travellers.
Authors Nick Ray, Peter Dragicevich and Regis St Louis have done the hard yards and crammed much of what Vietnam has to offer into Lonely Planet's famously tight word-limits. They've done a great job putting together what is a probably the most comprehensive text available and something much improved on Vietnam 8.
Guesthouse and hotel listings are concise and all budgets are well covered. There were some omissions which struck me as odd -- Mai House on Phu Quoc, Tay Ho Hotel in Can Tho, Jungle Beach north of Nha Trang, Hoa Hong in Da Nang and the Tung Trang in Hanoi -- all outstanding places, yet none made the cut. That said, there are stacks of excellent places they do mention -- more than enough for most readers. For the rest you'll just need to read [...]
Sights-wise, the information is excellent. Lots of historical background and interesting snippets are woven into the text, acting as leads for the reader to learn more. For example Ong Pagoda in Tra Vinh includes a reference to the Chinese classic The Romance of the Three Kingdoms for more information on the pagoda's god Quan Cong.
Transportation comes in two parts -- a summary and the destination specific sections throughout.
The summary section is good though a little unbalanced. There are almost three pages about getting a flight to Vietnam (surely something fairly simple), yet almost no information about the niche topic of buying a motorbike -- certainly an area where advice and suggestions would be useful. The train section has the briefest of fare charts, but thankfully steers people to the Man in Seat Sixty-One website ([...]) which is a far better resource.
The destination specific sections vary. In particular better information regarding frequency of bus services would have been good. There are also some discrepancies -- the Qui Nhon to Pakse bus service is listed as taking 12 hours and costing 250,000 VND, yet in Pleiku it reads "There is also an international service linking Pleiku and Attapeu (US$10, 12 hours)". This error (Qui Nhon to Pakse is at least twice the distance of Pleiku to Attapeu) is repeated in the transport introduction. Perhaps if one of the writers had actually done the trip they'd know that Attapeu to Kon Tum takes about five hours and another two hours to Pleiku, while the Qui Nhon to Pakse trip can take up to 20 hours. Of course these errors can happen to anyone -- I'm sure there are some in Travelfish -- but hey, LP has a bigger editing team than us.
Text and design
Talking about editing, the text is dense and the writing dry, verging on encyclopaedic. I've met a number of the LP writers over the years and without fail they've been a much more interesting, amusing and verbose lot than this text would have you believe. Perhaps the editors could spin the dial back a little on their "textual-de-emotionaliser device" to let the occasional witty or cheeky line slip through.
And while I'm on the topic of the back-end -- there's a new layout, and this one isn't great. A step forward is the removal of "Author's choice" aka the Lonely Planet Touch of Death -- replaced by a small "our pick" icon. A step backwards is the ordering of accommodation by price rather than quality. In this nod to the serial penny-pinchers, the rest of us are left scratching our head thinking "So which one do they recommend?".
Fact boxes though are the real blight. Vietnam 9 saw its length increased from 524 to 540 pages, yet rather than bulking out destinations, there are now more than 100 shaded fact boxes. Of course, some are useful; "Tracking the American War", tying together various sections covering war interests, is great. But half a page dedicated to Regis St Louis's motorbike breaking down is excessive -- especially when there's but a lone paragraph dedicated to trekking out of Kon Tum. Minor point perhaps, but the designers should have their cookie-jar benefits suspended for the incorrectly typeset, mistakenly padded fact box on page 163 -- sloppy.
Call me old school, but a move back to the basics -- accurate and easy to use information -- would be welcome. As an example, if you're looking for a list of internet resources for Vietnam, you'll be needing to refer to pages 21, 42, 58, 63, 69, 74, 79, 84, 89-90, 171, 465, 476, 494 and 495-6 -- whose bright idea was that?!
Now I'm getting petty and trivial -- lets move on.
The 105 maps cover all the major destinations and look terrific, but in anything short of ideal conditions, are difficult to read. Vietnam 8's maps, while uglier, were far easier to use. The new maps replace clunky shades and chunky outlines with gentle hues and delicate lines. This may look great in Lonely Planet's mapping HQ, but when you're crammed in a minibus trying to decipher the Hanoi map by torch, you'll be thinking different.
The photos are terrific. From the wraparound train cover-photo to the bored tourists gawking at the carpet in Reunification Palace, they do a great job of catching -- and explaining -- Vietnam. In another layout change, the photos are clustered in the first few pages, closely followed by a food overview and then eight more pages of colour in the centre.
It's worth noting that some of my criticisms are general and not specific to Vietnam 9 -- overall it's an excellent guide and I've rated the book at 8.5 stars (out of 10). If you're going to Vietnam and planning on hitting all the key destinations -- you'll be set with this title -- no questions asked.
*A pet peeve -- I purchased Vietnam 9 at a bookstore in Jakarta on July 20, and had seen it at the airport weeks earlier. Yet on the half-cover it reads "9th edition published August 2007". Unless Lonely Planet have a special in-house definition for the work "published" this is misleading to potential buyers who are looking for what they consider to be the most "up-to-date" text available -- it should read July 2007.
Kindle edition of LP Vietnam
Authors so rushed their research that they failed to visit many of the sights for the 2009 edition. As a result, descriptions are sometimes far off the mark. In the Hanoi section, for example, Quan Thanh Temple is said to be "on the shores of Truc Bach Lake," but if you walk along the lake shore you won't see the temple because it is a block south of the lake! The misleading description of Hanoi's excellent History Museum may put you off with "A must for the architecture more than the collection..." as may the comments about revolutionary history, but if the authors had visited the museum in recent years they would have found a very well laid-out and labeled collection of Vietnam's history up to about 1945. The revolutionary history has been moved north across the street to the Museum of the Vietnamese Revolution, which is actually very comprehensive and well displayed; here too, the book's description of this museum is flawed.
Lesser used borders, called "Border Blues" are poorly described. Any place to change money, accommodations, restaurants? Road conditions? It's difficult to tell from the descriptions. I've used the Nam Xoi-Na Meo and Nong Haet-Nam Can crossings into Vietnam, traveling on a bicycle, without any problems. It's silly to call these and Nam Phao-Cau Treo the "Border Blues" when they are perfectly fine as lesser-used crossings. Through buses are available to those who wish to reduce transport hassles.
Maps are generally very good, one of LP's strong points.
I used the Kindle edition of this guide, which works well and has enlarged segments of each map. Of course the paper edition is more convenient, but the weightlessness of the Kindle version is great to have.
I wish that Lonely Planet would be more emphatic about authors visiting EVERY sight for each edition to catch the changes. Too often authors assume that nothing has changed and skip a visit to a sight without knowing that the original description was wrong.
Best to take a look at the competition before buying this guidebook!
I have been to Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Danang & Hoi An this November & I liked this guide in general which is more or less the case for most LP guides I have read; it was mostly accurate, the maps & walking tours were easy to understand, it wasn't necessarily the best history book (which I wasn't expecting anyway) on Vietnam but covered necessary information on history & background of the country.
The only few problems we had was that some restaurants recommended were either closed down or moved to other locations in some places. I also think that the author should make some realistic comments about the restaurants rather than just saying it is very nice & the food is delicious etc. which is not the case every time. I.e. we have been to a very highly rated restaurant in Hoi An by the author & basically the place was dirty, I have seen huge cochroaches & a mouse walking on the walls & the wooden platform near the ceiling - the toilet was basically in the kitchen & the kitchen was the worst I have ever seen in my life! Now I understand the locals may be used to this but for a tourist who doesn't have his/her immune system adjusted to the country's conditions, it can be very harmful. I think the author should work on this alot more & shouldn't write good reviews on the restaurants just for the sake of including places in the guide.
In general the guide is acceptable & reliable; but please make your own judgements when travelling around both for the hotels & restaurants - it is better to be cautious than being sorry.
For me, it was an essential part of my travel kit. Having lived in Vietnam for a few years, I tend to be hypercritical of what's written about the place, and I found this guide to be accurate and interesting. It also covers so much of the country compared to some that you may need to extend your holiday - it inspired me to visit places I'd not bothered with before.
I say buy it. No guidebook replaces an adventurous spirit, but this one will lead you in the right direction. And if you're really up for some unique travel experiences, get a phrasebook as well - it's not easy to speak Vietnamese, but the rewards are worth the effort.
Shame on you, Lonely planet. You can do so much better.