Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In Defence of Lonely Planet

When I read travel articles or blogs, I often come across disdain for the Lonely Planet travel guide series and those who use them. Descriptions such as "...Lonely Planet-weilding backpackers..." and "...those people clutching Lonely Planet guides like life-rafts..." are all over the place.

Who are these travel guide snobs?

Myself, I love Lonely Planet. I'm a veteran traveller, having toughed it out on the ESL circuit in South Korea for a couple of years, travelling Thailand and visiting Japan and driving across Canada a couple of times. I've lived in 13 different cities around the globe in the past 10 years and I have read a lot of travel guides and, frankly, Lonely Planet is the best of them.

I recently bought the Rough Guide Series guide to Moscow in preparation for my next adventure and it, well, it's useless. It exquisitely details how to visit every Orthodox cathedral in the city over 322 pages but leaves one small paragraph about dining, one paragraph about the nightlife and three pages about post-Soviet Moscow history. The rest is all cathedrals, monasteries and more cathedrals. How boring.

The Lonely Planet guide to Moscow, however, is filled with hundreds of pages about food, bars, clubs, culture, transportation and other, more interesting, topics.

Lonely Planet did steer me wrong once before, I might add. It was my first trip to Bangkok and I was with my ex, her sister and her sister's boyfriend. Her sister had a Lonely Planet guide to Thailand and it told us that Sirkhumvit Road was filled with hostels and hotels and a happening nightlife, so from the airport (which is at least 20 km outside of the city) we told the taxi driver to take us there. It was nearly midnight.

Sirkhumvit Road was blacked-out. There were no streetlights. There were no hostels. There were no clubs or bars. Instead, there was a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of Thai hookers and old German sex tourists sitting on the curbs, standing, drinking from bottles and one 7-11. A GIANT rat scurried in front of us.
We were frantically searching through the Lonely Planet guide but sure enough, it told us that Sirkhumvit Road was THE place to go in Bangkok. It was either written by an elderly German sex tourist or it was out of date.

To give the Thai hookers credit, one of them saw the distinctive looks of being utterly lost on our faces and in near-perfect English (sprinkled with that incredibly cute accent Thai women have) asked us if we needed help. We said "Yes" and her and a group of her hooker friends, maybe excited to finally meet some tourists who didn't want to fuck them, gave us directions to a hotel several blocks away.

I can't remember which hotel it was but presumably it's where rich sex tourists stay because I remember it costing us over 1200 baht (over $100) for the night. It was on-par with a Holiday Inn.

The next morning my ex's sister found another chapter on Kohsan Road in her Lonely Planet guide and so we went there and found a bit of Shangri-La. There were restaurants, pubs, hostels and stores up the length of the road so we checked into a 100 baht-a-night hostel, hit a patio and proceeded to get incredibly drunk. It was 8 am.
A couple of days later we went the south-east islands and Lonely Planet got us around Koh Samui and Koh Phagnang with incredible ease, even helping us to find some peaceful and cheap beach bungalows. It helped us negotiate water-taxis around Koh Phagnang and it directed us to an extremely isolated little beach resort jutting out from the eastern side, where we enjoyed our first mushroom shakes (of the magical variety) and I saw my first ever invoice for a "bag of green". Just like Lonely Planet said.

Aside from that one incident of misinformation, Lonely Planet has been very helpful in my travels. I don't care what travel guide snobs say. Enjoy your cathedrals because I'm sticking with my Lonely Planet.

No comments:

Post a Comment