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Lonely Planet Southeast Asia: On A Shoestring

Published just two months before the cyclone disaster in Myanmar (Burma), questions of safety regarding whether or not to go to the politically and ethically wrought country are best answered on the Lonely Planet website. Along with Myanmar, this impressive 14th Edition of the Southeast Asia on a Shoestring travel guide addresses the Southeastern kingdoms of Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. If you are off on a backpacking trip, and are strapped for cash, this small, but heavy gem of a book is what you are looking for.

Southeast Asia on a Shoestring is written by a group of experienced traveller-adventurers and covers a range of ‘need to know’ material on each country. These include what to see, quick facts, and recent events, which is followed by historical and cultural information, religion, arts, environment, and transport. The rundown of each kingdom’s historical background is outstanding; the authors have done a great job in compressing thorough accounts of the past and present in such limited space.

Splayed across double pages at the beginning of this paperback is a coloured map of the continent with helpful descriptions of top sights to visit or activities to do at particular destinations. Local maps mainly of central cities too are provided—good eyesight however is recommended as street names are printed in what seems like microscopic fonts. Scams to avoid are also highlighted and there is a section for women and gay travellers with useful notes on dangers to watch out for.

The guide’s humorous approach throughout makes it an amusing and light-hearted read. Some pages though may invoke a slight annoyance owing to a repetitive moral tone in such sections as "Responsible Travel" and "Do’s and Don’ts" and other 'should or should not' language that suffuse the writing, most of which is common sense practice—like telling western women not to bathe topless in Islamic-run areas.

The Southeast Asia directory wonderfully summarises toward the end of the book what you should expect from your stay abroad, with information offered on climate, accommodation, toilets, electricity, activities, courses, and volunteering – all of which are given greater attention in earlier chapters.

Southeast Asia on a Shoestring is a valuable guidebook that, additionally, lists important everyday phrases in the nine main languages spoken in the region. Still, best not to rely too much on every fact that is presented, as some details are likely to be outdated from the time of writing. But all in all, this is a well-structured and condensed manual with easy to follow and convenient information. This storehouse of a book is surely for keeps.

Written by: Payal Patel, June 17th 2008

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