There are a lot of guidebooks to choose from and if you browse the bookstore or online, it’s difficult to know which one is the best for you. Some editions of even the most well-respected companies have been criticized for their inaccuracies and alleged biases. I’ve decided to compile a list of the guidebooks that I own and recommend. I’ll break down the list according to region. If you see a country left out of a region (such as Japan and China), it is because I have not been there yet. You’ll notice most of these book are Lonely Planet or Rough Guide. Both are, for the most part, good choices. However, for some countries or regions, I have gone with a lesser known choice.
South Korea – I lived in South Korea for four years and have used many guidebooks. Lonely Planet Korea and Lonely Planet Seoul are both good. Lonely Planet Pocket Seoul may be your best option if you’re only in Seoul for a brief period of time. English is not common in Korea and you may find a phrasebook helpful, but it’s not essential. Rough Guide also makes both a Korea and Seoul guidebook.
Taiwan – I lived in Taiwan for a year. This recommendation is easy as I only used one book. I’m sure there are other great guidebooks, but this is the one that worked for me; The Rough Guide to Taiwan.
Central America Guidebooks
I highly recommend the Lonely Planet Central America on a shoestring book. It did miracles for my trip planning. It’s a few years old, but packed with great info. For the purpose of this article, I borrowed a copy of The Rough Guide to Central America on a Budget. It also looks great and seems accurate, but I wanted to make it clear I don’t actually own this book and have only skimmed it. However, it is a newer book and countries like Nicaragua and El Salvador are changing rapidly.
The final book I recommend for this region is Fodor’s Cancun & the Riviera Maya. What?? A book that isn’t Lonely Planet or Rough Guide? I think there’s a Moon guidebook coming up soon too, so I’m not completely biased towards one brand. We used the Fodor book to plan our trip to Cancun and Tulum. It was very helpful.
You should avoid all country-specific guidebooks not published by Lonely Planet or Rough Guide for Central America. Although I haven’t read the LP or RG country guides, I do trust them. My experiences with other publishers for this region have been horrible.
Europe, UK, and Ireland Guidebooks
It has been many years since I went to Europe and that part of the world. I visited the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Germany, and Italy. Years ago, I used the Lonely Planet Europe on a shoestring book. I thought it was good, but a bit heavy. If I went back again, I would buy the e-book versions or narrow the region or country down versus buying a book for all of it as it’s a massive book.
The Middle East Guidebooks
I’ve lived in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and have traveled to Syria, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman. I did not use a guidebook for my time in Syria, so I cannot recommend anything. Plus, it’s not exactly the best time to visit. There is only one book to recommend and that is the Lonely Planet Oman, UAE, & Arabian Peninsula book.
South America Guidebooks
Here’s a region that I’ve never been to before, but I’ve read the guidebooks backwards and forwards as my wife and I were considering moving there for a year. Although I haven’t tested these books in the field as I have the others, they seem correct. Can you guess the publisher?
Both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet books are fantastic. These are big books, but I love them both. I have not read any country-specific books as my experience in Central America turned me off from trying.
South Asia Guidebooks
Sri Lanka – Lonely Planet Sri Lanka. This is the only book I purchased for a tablet and I thought it was great. Not as good as a physical copy, but the experience was still good enough that I wouldn’t hesitate recommending electronic versions of any of these guidebooks if you’re going on an extended trip and want to shed some weight off your luggage.
Southeast Asia Guidebooks
This is one region I have traveled to more than others. I also lived in Indonesia as a kid. Here are all the books I recommend. Finally, something that’s not completely Rough Guide or Lonely Planet (but yeah, still a lot of those).
The best general regional guidebooks on the market are Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on shoestring and The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget. I wrote a review of these books here. Southeast Asia is also the only region where I really liked the country-specific guidebooks. Here are the ones I’ve used and recommend:
Cambodia – along with Laos and Nicaragua, Cambodia is one of the favorite places I’ve visited. The Rough Guide is also one of my favorite guidebooks. I also used the Eyewitness Travel Guide: Vietnam & Angkor Wat to help me choose the must-see temples in the Angkor national park.
Indonesia – I lived here for several years as a kid and have been back to visit as an adult. The Lonely Planet book is exceptional. It is truly one of the best guidebooks I have read. If you’re only going to Indonesia or traveling in the country for an extended period (more than a month), I recommend picking up this book. It is truly awesome. The new edition will be published in July 2016. Do you know what else makes Indonesia fantastic? The dry season is the opposite of the rest of the region. While everything else is pouring rain, you can head to Indonesia to sit on a gorgeous beach and enjoy the sunshine.
Laos – Lonely Planet wins again. Actually, it’s all they had at the store. Overall, a really good guide.
Myanmar – I’ve only read one book here and that’s Rough Guide.
Philippines – Lonely Planet. One of the better guidebooks I’ve read. Highly recommended.
Thailand – there have been so many guidebooks written on this country. They get very specific in terms of beaches, cities, regions, and even food. Here are the ones I’ve used:
Vietnam – I’ve been to Vietnam twice in the past eight years and loved both of my trips very much. Guess what? No Lonely Planet or Rough Guide books. Wow! They are:
Eyewitness Travel. I quite liked Eyewitness Travel because it’s packed with great photos and it helped me choose some of my destinations visually versus reading an exaggerated description from another book.
United States of America Guidebooks
As someone from the United States, I typically don’t need a guidebook. However, there have been a few that I found essential.
Moon Kentucky. Wow! Another book that’s not LP or RG. It’s also my only Moon recommendation.
Lonely Planet Seattle. My current home!
Is something missing?
As I visit more places, I’ll update this list accordingly. Happy travels!