“ Author: Aruna Ghose / Publisher: DK Publishing / 304 Pages „
DK Eye Witness Guide to Cambodia and Laos
WHAT DO YOU GET?
They are usually in a heavy paperback form with a good solid cover which has flaps like a hardback book might have. They are all in the same format with DK Eyewitness Travel at the top and under that is the name of the city or country, a photo below that and then a summary of the main topics inside the book is found at the bottom of the front cover.
Their catch phrase is, " The guides that show you what others only tell you." And that pretty much is true and summarises their guide books. You can buy them for cities and also for countries but sadly they don't cover all cities and countries, usually the more popular ones.
OPENING THE GUIDE
Inside the front cover of this one is a very simple map of Cambodia and Laos showing the two countries in context with their neighbouring countries in SE Asia. It is colour coded to help you use the guide as it is broken up into the areas as coloured on this map. Around the map are photos of eight main sights in the areas as broken down in the book with page numbers so yiu can quickly turn to the section you want to so it is a sort of extra index too.
There is a proper index or contents page as well and as well as the area by area guide you find things covered like " Luang Prabang" and ' A Portrait of Laos' or of you are interested in Cambodia there are chapter headings such as " Cambodia Through the Year' and 'Phnom Penh' to name a couple
On this last trip we really only used the Laos section but both parts are pretty much the same sort of detail and approach they just are obviously specific to that country with the information given.
The maps in the book are really good. They have the whole of each country within the South East Asian region then each country broken into regions and finally when you get down to a specific area then you get another larger scale map of each region and even a town if the town is of specific interest. Each map also has photos of the main sites of interest around the outside to pique your interest.
A BIT OF BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE
Most people visiting a new place want to know a bit of history about the place and this guide gives a very good history run down explaining different aspects of this amazing country. We have pages on a quick history and a bit about the general climate and culture. We then have information on the 'A portrait of Laos', 'Laos Through the Year, 'History', 'Laos at a Glance and each section has pictures and simple but useful explanations. You get the information quickly and it is accessible to all. There are similar sections and breakdown on Cambodia as well.
I will start with Luang Prabang as possible the town or city most visited by tourists to Laos even though it is not the capital it has UNESCO World heritage status and is a very attractive and unspoilt city.
There is a short written introduction followed by a city map on the next page. What I particularly like about their maps of the smaller areas is that the sights to see of special interest are pointed out on the map with a small symbol ( picture) and around the outside of the map there are photos of these with an arrow pointing to where they are on the map. It is so simple a child could use it and it does mean if you take it out and about with you there is no difficulty map reading as they are clear and printed on sensible sized pages so you are not flipping backwards and forwards with flappy bits of paper that blow in the wind trying to read street names.
The next double page has a street by street picture map of the old part of the city with places of special interest pointed out with photos and a bit of information too. Laos temple architecture is then explained and all the main temples in Luang Prabang are shown in photographs and a little bit of information is given about each. I found this very useful as there were so many temples that we visited and it was handy to refer to once we were home to remind me what they were called and what we saw. I was able to identify my photos by referring to this guide.
A couple of the main temples are then given their own double page spread with a sort of 2D picture and once again things to look out for are photographed around this 2D map/picture . This is very helpful as this way you know what you are looking for when you visit.
There are some beautiful photographs in the guide too and I find these are a real inspiration. I always want to see where the photo was taken and try to improve on the photo myself!
AREA BY AREA
Apart from luang Prabang and vientienne the rest of the Laos part of the guidebook is broken into regions. The regional areas are Northern Laos which actually has both these cities within it and also includes the famous Plain of Jars . Sadly as we had to make a decision to see limited things and the journey to this site is long and not very comfortable we decided not to go to the Plain of Jars and so really in this area we spent our time in and around Luang Prabang then flew to Vientiane where we spent a few days only.
I was fascinated by the ethnic minorities in Laos and how they had managed to keep their own traditions and culture within the country.
The next area is Central and Southern Laos where we spent the remaining time of our trip to Laos. This is again covered in detailed maps, and then there is a little bit about all the main towns. The most visited area here is Pakse and Champasak where there is a large temple a bit like those in Cambodia at Angkor Wat but this is not as well preserved however it is being restored with the help of various different countries.
The temple known as Wat Pu Champasak also has a double page spread with the main things of interst pointed out with photos so you can recognise them when you find them.
The Mekong in this area is wide and has lots of small islands in the river and because of this the area is known as the Four thousand islands.
The Bolaven Plateau is Laos' agricultural area for tea and coffee plantations. It is supposedly cooler that other parts as it is higher but I can't say we noticed the difference in temperature.
OTHER ASPECTS COVERED
There are sections on where to stay, where to eat, shops and markets as well as some information about the cultural traditions so really everything you need to know is well covered. There is even a sort of traveller's handy dictionary at the back for each country with the words written in English script and those of Laos and Cambodia. I particularly like the section which tells you the foods to try when in the country and what are the regional specialities. There are helpful tips and advice for tourists regarding safety and medical issues as well as other practical pieces of information such as what the sign looks like for 'Tourist Information', where to find public toilets, what electricity plugs and voltage is used and a list of consulates and embassies.
Other useful information in the guide includes how to get to Laos and Cambodia and which airlines get you there. Which trains and buses serve the country, how to drive on the roads or not as the case may be as they are not the best in either country and it is not advisable to drive yourself in either country.
Although I have concentrated on Laos the format is the same for Cambodia and the guide just as useful as we found when we visited a few years before this.
SO WHAT DO I THINK?
I think you might have gathered that I am a fan of this guidebook. It has everything you would need to know for a visit to these countries set out in a simple, interesting and informative way. It doesn't bore the pants off you by long lectures on ancient history, it covers the main features and should you want to delve deeper then you can get the books on that subject to follow that aspect yourself.
I like the way the book is set out, broken into areas and different topic we find the maps are excellent. It is just so nice to be able to see what you might want to visit in a photo with an arrow pointing to where you can find it on the map. It makes it easy to plan what you might want to do once you get there.
We didn't visit all parts of either country as it isn't easy to get from one place to another and so we had to make some decisions and leave some things out. You can't see everything as my husband always says. I am keeping this book as it will be one we may well use again should we be lucky enough to return to explore other areas of either Laos or Cambodia.
It is also not too heavy so you can carry it around with you. I love the way it shows you photos so that you know exactly what you are looking for when you are somewhere. For example for the temples you get a sort of 2D diagram and photos which point out where to find each thing of interest and under the photo is a short piece about the item.
As I said at the start this is always our first choice of guide book as they are so very well written and have great maps and photos as well. It is informative without being too heavy going. I don't always want to know the entire history of something I am visiting, a potted version suits me. If you are student of history or architecture or want to look really closely at the temples individually then you may indeed want to know more but there are other books you can go to for that sort of in depth knowledge it isn't need in a guide book in my view.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.