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Book Reviews

Vietnam: A Kick Start Guide for Business Travellers

by Guy & Victoria Brooks

Nepal Handbook

by Kerry Morgan

For years, Thailand ruled as the primary destination in Southeast Asia. That’s probably still true, but while her popularity is still high, increasing numbers of travelers are looking to the surrounding destinations in the region, exotic places whose names resonate with romance – Bali, Lombok, Nepal – or those which once evoked uneasy thoughts of war and political upheaval, but which are now opening up to welcome visitors and display historical and natural charms we hadn’t quite known were there – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and of course, Vietnam.
Interest in this part of the world is also growing, of course, due to the ever-expanding forces of a global economy. Business ties between East and West continue to strengthen, particularly in western Canada, and business books geared to doing business in the East – without losing face – are beginning to pop up more regularly.
In general, The Lonely Planet series is a good bet for Southeast Asia, weighing in with a half dozen or so country-specific guides, as well as a comprehensive guide to the entire region. Most are written by longtime LP writers, some of whom are updating their earlier titles. LP’s focus on Southeast Asia is not surprising, given that the Australian company’s first book, published in 1974 and known for years as “the yellow bible,” covered the region. LP continues to expand, with a web site (www.lonelyplanet.com) and videos now enhancing their excellent print product. Their guides are solid, informative, and very definitely geared to low-budget travelers.
Interestingly, they are also serious about making a positive contribution to the countries they cover, and since 1986 a percentage of the income from each book has been donated to ventures such as famine relief in Africa, aid projects in India, and agricultural projects in Central America.
A continuing minor quibble: the number of photos LP guides include. The guide to Bali has more than 35 glossy, heavy pages of photos that add unnecessary weight and are clearly superfluous – travelers will be seeing these sights in person.
The Lonely Planet shoestring guide to South-East Asia covers 12 countries in just under 900 pages. While the country segments are largely written by the LP authors of single-volume country guides, like all these too-comprehensive guides, there’s simply not enough information. The history of Brunei before the discovery of oil in 1929, for example, takes about 70 words and omits dates altogether. It may be tiny and, compared to its more exotic neighbours, not terribly interesting, but it probably merits a little more space.
One of LP’s more recent titles is Myanmar (Burma). Myanmar has not exactly encouraged tourism, of any kind, and in general it’s better-known for its human rights violations than its tourist destinations. But as with other countries in the area, Myanmar is relaxing a bit, at least for the traveler who doesn’t mind working a bit harder for her rewards. There’s a thought-provoking and sensitive discussion of the ethics of visiting a country under such a repressive regime (though presumably by the time she has shelled out $17.95 for the book, the traveler has already made her decision).
At this point the Lonely Planet’s most serious competition for the budget traveler market comes from The Rough Guide series, though in some respects the well-heeled traveler would be wiser to pick up one of these than the glossier versions. Which you choose really boils down to a matter of personal preference, since the information given is generally much the same; I prefer the Rough Guide layout, softer, less glaring paper, and many useful sidebars and boxes. Rough Guides are also a lot lighter – this can matter on a long trek with more than one or two guides along – and their historical detail and context tends to be more comprehensive and readable; on the other hand, LP has been focusing on Asia for a lot longer, and has a real wealth of experts on its side. They also tend to have better glossaries. Both companies are concerned about traveling in a culturally sensitive manner and don’t pull any punches when offering advice, which guidebooks geared towards a different breed of traveler – older, richer – seem less willing to do.
The Rough Guide series is fairly new to Southeast Asia and boasts far fewer titles than the Lonely Planet. Their most recent is Bali & Lombok (1996); the LP version (also titled Bali & Lombok), is an update published in 1994. The Rough Guide is more comprehensive, but the LP contains a terrific, extensive section of inspiring colour photos and detail about the various crafts available which, if you’re an amateur collector and don’t mind the extra weight, is probably more useful.
Moon Travel Handbooks, a California-based company that regularly wins travel journalism awards and high praise from not only the Western but also the Eastern travel press, are noted for the quality and detail of their maps and impressive depth of information; they’ve also got a web site (www.moon.com) and e-mail address (travel@moon.com) for up-to-the-minute info. Asia and the Pacific is an area of focus for the company, which includes Fiji, Tahiti, and Tibet among its 19 regional titles.
Moon’s Nepal Handbook, published this year, is a stellar example of travel writing by Kerry Moran, a Kathmandu-based journalist and trek leader fluent in Nepali, Tibetan, and Chinese. With 18 treks in Nepal and a handful of travel titles under her belt, as well as a fluid, literate style not often found in travel guides, she’s hard to beat. There are other Nepal titles available, of course, though none so recent or with such an in-depth, insider’s perspective, recently recognized when Moran won the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Gold Award.
Vietnam has been dubbed “the sweetheart of the future” and “a sleeping tiger”; the Asian Development Bank predicts Vietnam will be the next leader in economic growth in Southeast Asia. After nearly 20 years of essentially closed borders, the country is opening up quickly; the government has guaranteed that foreign enterprises won’t be nationalized, and a young and eager work force makes Vietnam extremely attractive to the business sector.
Vietnam: A Kick Start Guide for Business Travellers by Vancouver-based couple Guy and Victoria Brooks, is an introduction to Vietnam for entrepreneurs and investors, covering everything from the intricacies of business etiquette to setting up a temporary office to where to get business cards to a few basic health tips. Guy Brooks works as, among other things, a consultant to companies and individuals interested in international business; writer Victoria Brooks provides the literary element – she’s currently working on a historical romance set in Vietnam. There’s nothing terribly romantic about the guide, however – it’s strictly business. They don’t fail to point out the cheap labour and extremely industrious workforce, but they do seem to respect the Vietnamese and throw in a certain amount of discussion about the ethical issues that arise when doing business in booming – but still developing – countries.