As the mobile internet revolution reaches a feverish pace and entire ecosystems are disrupted, travelers are moving online and ditching their guidebooks. Here’s an account of the last few times the LP guidebook saved my life before i swutched entirely to online sources for my travel planning. Really wished LP adapted to the digital revolution better than the last few years. A stalwart brand me and other travelers will definitely continue supporting!

Haikou ferry terminal

The chaotic terminal

1) The ferry from Hainan to China mainland

This ferry crossing is an atypical one. Firstly, It’s not easy to get to the port of Haikou for domestic crossings. Secondly, the harbour on the Chinese mainland is not a town, so there’s nothing but a port there, which also means there are no onward connections or amenities in the port itself. Thirdly, there are so many scammers around who sell dubious tickets and highly deceptive looking tickets with truckloads of lies. Lonely Planet warned us very clearly about this.

Buy only from official permanent looking offices. Even temporary stalls, large signboards and professional looking uniformed staff can be part of an elaborate scam.

The railway station where you can buy your ferry tickets

The railway station where you can buy your ferry tickets

So this is the place where you buy your tickets, and it has tons of vendors. From the scruffy looking obviously scammer looking people to the concrete offices and uniformed staff. There’s also the in between, temporary stalls erected with cardboards, modified motorbikes, roll up banners. The Chinese are creative, you got to give it to them. And so the biggest trick everyone is relying on is that you need an onward ticket on the other side of the port. You have to buy everything before you board the ferry. So with LP’s advice this was the one time we were totally rule-abiding, and we shelled out a premium to get the one with the official stamps from the concrete office and uniformed staff.

Once we crossed to the other side, we can’t heave enough sighs of relief.At least 20% of the people there were stopped after disembarking the ferry as they didn’t have onward tickets. Illegal vendors were charging them at least 4 times as much to get an onward ticket, or get take the ferry back to buy another one. After 30mins it seemed like the victims have conceded defeat and took the ferry back. Those with flights and trains to catch couldn’t afford the time and had to shell out the money. Lucky us for trusting Lonely Planet!

2.) The Lao Curfew

The 4th time was a much more serious one. This was really close. The other times were more metaphorical. Lonely Planet saved our money, time, travel plans more than our lives. This time, it was literally our lives.

In Laos, back in 2008, there was a curfew after a certain time. It was loosely enforced, so no one really knew when it started, when it ended, and what are the rules. It was very… to put it simply.. discretionary. Given how heavily armed their police were, it was a pretty scary prospect. AK47s, chains of bullets slung round their necks were not an uncommon sight. Just like what you see in the Rambo movies.

Something like this x2

Something like this x2

So it was my last night in Southern Laos, and to commemorate my last night in Laos before crossing over to Cambodia, I decided to do a little night walk with my friends, check out the quiet city at night and take peaceful, tranquil photos of the soviet buildings, which took a life of their own at midnight without the life, and busyness of daily Laotian life.

It was so empty we literally did not see another soul in our 2-3 hour escapade around the city. We sat by the river, drank from random water dispensers (no idea why it was there but it actually tasted good), explored the market and just as we were about to head back to the hotel, we head someone shouting at us in Lao. Irritated shouts. Does not sound good, was what we thought to ourselves. It turned out to be 2 armed policemen.

And they fit the typical stereotype of armed personnel then, AK47s, rounds slung over their shoulders, bad-ass, and angry looking. They started shouting angrily and saying tons of things we of course couldn’t understand they pointed to their watches, brandished their rifles, edged closer, everything that made us feel uncomfortable. All this time all we could do is say baw khaochai (don’t understand) and smile and smile and smile. Then it occured to us we had to let them know we were lost tourists looking for our way back to the hotel, that would absolve us of the supposed ‘crime’ breaking the curfew. So we took out the Lonely Planet guidebook to show them the map and ask them the name of the hotel then point to the map. Bringing out the guidebook itself mellowed them because they recognized that as a tourist posession! after more nervous smiles and laughter they actually pointed us to the right direction and the right place on the map (cuz we actually knew where it was) and reluctantly shooed us away.

That was close and that was once we didn’t expect the Lonely Planet guidebook to save us. Not with its content, but with its brand and recognizability even among the armed forces in SouthEast Asia. A final thank you to Lonely Planet as we bid goodbye to it, using things like tripadvisor instead in the years to come! The sale from the original founders to BBC and then now Brad Kelley with the enigmatic 26-year old CEO Daniel Houghton has taken its toll on the iconic brand and its strategy is clear as the Mekong. Hopefully things will change and there will be good reason to use it once again!


The rider of ox-carts, tarantula-eating, giant crossbow toting founder of Backstreet Academy. Let me know if you have a challenge to add to that and I'll gladly oblige! :)