Asia: Guides & Reading

India is a literary tour de force, but reading gems are abound across the continent. India, china and Southeast Asia are huge areas for any guidebook to cover.

Asia

Asia is a big one, so only a selected few guides are listed. The recommended reading in this section is not to be missed as are the planning books by Mark Elliot.

:-) Any one of the fiction books recommended is an excellent read and great background to life in Asia.

 Read more reviews, get info and of course buy any book on this page. Remember the beauty of Amazon is that you can buy books for research and send them back when you are done or if they don't fit what you require. Using Amazon links really helps support this site - please click here to see why.

pdf Need only some parts? - Download Chapters (Lonely Planet)

[book]

First-Time Asia - Lucy Ridout

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

New third edition, great intro and easy to read, completely ignores Burma (not even a reason why). Still a favourite. Out of print, but easy to get a second hand copy on Amazon.
The first question tackled is which parts of Asia to visit and, much more difficult, which places to leave out. The book focuses on the twenty most accessible and most visited countries of Asia, giving you an opinionated taste of what these destinations have in store for first-timers. Each country profile includes a round-up of the major highlights and tourist activities as well as a selection of personal recommendations and lesser-known gems, plus contact details for tourist offices and embassies. North and west of Pakistan aren't included and Burma (Myanmar) is also omitted (in the hope that travellers will uphold the boycott on tourism requested by Aung San Suu Kyi) - for information on this then the Lonely Planet version is a better bet.

Published: (February, 2010)

[book]

Asia Overland - Mark Elliot

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

 :-) Highly Recommended

The bible of Asia overland travel. SE Asia sections now out of date (see update below), but rest still very good for off-the beaten track travel. Lots of hand drawn maps makes planning and finding real gems simplicity itself.

Prices might be way out, but the info is spot on. Get this book! (or the South East Asia version (South East Asia: A Graphical Guide - Mark Elliot; ISBN 1873756674)

Comment Firstly, just like to say that I find your site to be one of the best travel sites around. I found the advice on what to pack and guidebook reviews very useful. The Asia overland guide is excellent though a little out of date. It's also out of print at the mo. However, I ordered it from http://www.abebooks.co.uk and got it for an excellent price. Would recommend having a link to this site for out of print/hard to get books. I also bought the Footprint Guide to India. It's a welcome change to the LP format. - Gerry Maher

[book]

Trekking in the Annapurna Region - Bryn Thomas

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Not perfect but far better than the Lonely Planet Trekking in Nepal. Without a guide the maps and details are invaluable in this book. It's got sketch drawings of sections of the routes, approx walking times, all the villages you go through and points out places to stay and what they're like. Also see Trekking in the Everest Region by Jamie McGuiness.

 

[book]

Lonely Planet: South East Asia on a shoestring - China Williams, Shawn Low

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

pdf Need only some parts? - Download Chapters

As always LP is the most popular guide in this region and far too over used. Expect that with any regional guide content is a little basic in places. However, this new version of the Lonely Planet that started them all is now not by Tony Wheeler (LP founder) and is much better.

Published: (October, 2016)

[book]

The Rough Guide to South East Asia on a budget - Various

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Rough Guide is a newcomer to regional guides and this is okay and better than older Lonely Planets. Either way it reads better than the Lonely Planets and is nice to have something different. Now with Burma (Myanmar) and Chinese-administered territories of Hong Kong and Macau covered if you need them.

Published: (October, 2014)

[book]

Footprint Handbook: Southeast Asia

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

New to South East Asian multi-country guidebooks and annually updated, those who know the South American Footprints will be eager to try and Footprint have an excellent reputations and although not perfect, this guide is far, far better than the RG or LP and much less used, although less budget focused and with an annoying hardback. There is also an Indochina only edition.

Published: (June, 2012)

 

[book]

Lonely Planet: India - Sarina Singh, et. al.

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

pdf Need only some parts? - Download Chapters

Known as the bible. The LP India is an icon for travel and very popular, but open your eyes LP is not the only guide. This is the latest update, but many of the authors remain the same). The LP is a good choice for ultra budget travellers (and for that reason recommended). We liked its maps and some of its practical tips. Sometimes you know a contributor was having a bad day (so a blameless local restaurant is savaged for "abysmally slow service"); sometimes the house politics preclude any genuine sense of inquiry (so the East India Company is "notorious"); too often, an important town is dismissed or not mentioned (eg Mirzapur, UP); sometimes the information is just wrong (so the railway booking office in Patna, Bihar is described as hopeless: there's a perfectly decent computerised office upstairs, had you bothered to ask). Worst of all is the trivialising know-everything tone that hides profound ignorance. This book encourages self-important, me-me-me "travel". There are other books, like Footprint (below), with a different take on this wonderful and complicated country.

Published: (October, 2015)

[book]

Footprint (Tread your own path): India - David Scott

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

:-) Highly Recommended

Considered by many including myself, as the best guide to India. Compared this to the LP and Rough Guides the FP has far more information, thumbnail sketches of places, and hotel listings with a variety of prices from backpacker to luxury - and some great finds. The info was up to date and accurate. The LP 'bible' is fine as a basic guide, but you will quickly get frustrated by joining the 'LP queue' everywhere. The Footprint has so much more information than the LP (or RG for that matter) and as well as giving you all the practical stuff you could ever want, actually breathes life into the culture and history that underlies all of India. Note this is a hardback book. There are paper back editions covering in more detail, most major regions of India.

Published: 19th edition (May, 2016)

Info Don't forget if you are just visiting a part of India, i.e. the South, then pick up a guide for just that region. Both LP and Footprint do guides for just selected areas, but some are more out of date than the following which are recommended:

[book]

The Rough Guide to Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra - Daniel Jacobs & Gavin Thomas

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Or LP version - October 2011; ISBN: 1741794609

Published: (September, 2010)

Footprint: South India - David Stott

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Annoyingly hardbacked.

Published: 5th edition (May, 2015)

 

[book]
[book]

The Rough Guide to Nepal - David Reed

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

:-) Highly Recommended

The best thing about this book is its vast coverage especially those places off the beaten track. It has a lot of practical information and is fairly accurate. Other travel books attempt to be encyclopaedic about Nepal, documenting everything without prioritising the places that people actually do visit. David's book goes into a lot of detail about places of interest, both historical and practical info. Great trekking info. By far the best Nepal Guide.

Published: (October, 2015)

Lonely Planet Nepal - Various

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

 

Published: (August, 2012)

[book]
[book]

Lonely Planet China -  Damian Harper, et al.

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

pdf Need only some parts? - Download Chapters

At last, an attempt at an upto date China guide that isn't near useless before it hits the shops. Haven't tried it or received any feedback, but this is the latest guide on China and looks good. Comments welcome. If just visiting a small area say HK or Beijing then do yourself a favour and get a guide for that area only and not the above. Rough Guide have an update out from June, 2014 - see below with comment...

Published: 14th edition (June, 2015)

Rough Guide China -  David Leffman

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

E-mailed comment: 'I noticed that you recommend Lonely Planet's China guidebook on your resources page. I’d actually like to put in a good word for the Rough Guide version instead. I lived in China for a year and I had the opportunity to use both guides fairly frequently. The Rough Guide pointed out more interesting places, and was better organised for my needs as I travelled. Also, even though it was less up to date than LP, I had an easier time finding the sites and places it described. Its only drawback was major metropolises like Shanghai and Beijing. Those cities are changing so much that by the time the book got to me a lot of the things had changed already (though to be fair, the guidebooks in Chinese have the same problem, and those get updated a lot more frequently).

Published: 6th edition (June, 2014)

[book]
[book]

Lonely Planet: Indonesia - Mark Elliott

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Good LP, up to date, complete coverage by default both the best overall guide to Indonesia for independent travellers, and the only one that is remotely up to date.
The competition (Moon, Footprint, Rough Guides) seems to have given up covering this vast archipelago years ago.

Published: (May, 2013)

[book]

The Rough Guide to Thailand - Paul Gray & Lucy Ridout

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

:-) Recommended

Over nine million foreigners flying into Thailand each year, and this is one place you can do without being on the LP trail. In all honesty having a RG instead of a LP won't make the crowds disappear and neither guide is perfect, but the RG is the latest (by a few months) and much better than the overused LP effort that reads terribly. It strikes just the right balance and although the book still weighs in on the heavier end in a backpack, its pretty much all useful especially if exploring all this great country has to offer - which is a lot.

Published: (October, 2015)

-divider-

It's worth mentioning that if you are only heading South from Bangkok to the glorious destinations of beaches and islands you are much better off with either RG's or LP's version that focus on this area alone:

[book]

The Rough Guide to the Philippines - David Dalton

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

A pretty good effort compared to the awful LP version. Well written, up-to-date (kind- of!) with only Rough Guides general 'roughness' to complain about.

Published: (October, 2014)

 

[book]

Rough Guide Cambodia - Beverley Palmer

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

An update of RG. No reports. Great Angkor coverage as you would expect.
A tough choice over Footprint version.

Published: (August, 2014)

 

[book]

Footprint Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos - Claire Boobbyer, Andrew Spooner & Jock O'Tailan

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

From the Mekong Delta to the Chinese border in Northern Laos, the first guide of its kind to these three southeast Asian countries.
Very typical FP style that not everyone will get on with.

Published: (August, 2015)

[book]

Lonely Planet: Central Asia - Bradley Mayhew

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

At last something half up-to-date. This and Asia Overland and you are sorted. The first edition of Lonely Planet's Central Asia guide was simply not up to standard. Its data and advice was incomplete and even wrong, but more than anything, it was out-of-date before it was published: things had changed a great deal in Central Asia, between 1991 when the countries became independent, and 1996 when the guide was published. But finally, this edition fully compensates for those lacks. Truly up-to-date, it offers all the advice, tips and information that travellers expect to get from Lonely Planet. And in this region, you'll need it!

Published: 6th edition (June, 2014)

Are you experienced - William Sutcliffe

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

A fun and indeed funny read. Short little book that pokes fun out of travellers in India. A little childish, but very good. Don't believe the nay-sayers. You can read this novel as pulp if you want, because the humour and free-flowing storyline make it truly difficult to put down, but between the lines it is a dark and bitter diatribe to the culture of the traveller. Only the ending with its 'nosy-parker' humour lets the story down. But it shows that none of the travellers learned anything from travelling, despite their claims to the contrary. So it succeeds in its point.

[book]
[book]

Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

There are better and more factual books on Japan, but for a brilliant read and a fascinating insight into the way people lived in post-war Japan, it's an excellent bet.
It is beautifully written and a book you can't put down. 

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China - Jung Chang

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

:-) Highly Recommended

This is one to read before you go to China. It is the story of a family over three generations. Although the book can be quite flatly written at times, it is the subject matter that is the point of the book. I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone it covers history, sociology, the entire range of human emotions, and is essentially an autobiography. One of the most important recent books to be written from a personal point of view about what it is like to be Chinese living in China. It is also worth noting that the book (unlike some of the post-Tiananmen works) is not a political diatribe - treatment of Japanese, KMT and CCP activities in China are evaluated on the basis of their effect on the author, further personalising the story. If you only read one book on China, read this one. BTW it's banned in China.

[book]
[book]

The Beach - Alex Garland

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Please, forget the film. Alex Garland captures the mood of the backpacker perfectly with their desire to see the unknown places of the Earth and their disdain for the "tourists" and shows us the flip side of that coin as we see that despite all the danger that the narrator encounters, he is in fact, no more than a tourist himself. Set in Thailand, Garland draws his characters nicely, and creates a group of people that you can care for, while still seeing the flaws in them. The society on the Beach is drawn with great care, allowing the reader to draw parallels (both good and bad) with the society that the narrator is trying to escape. An excellent, exciting and riveting read.

A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

:-) Highly Recommended

There are so many books on India and I couldn't recommend them all. If I had to pick one, it would be this. A Suitable Boy, another one of my favourites is just too long and flat in places (but worthwhile). Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie is amazingly written, but fails to capture India as A Fine Balance does. The same goes for the over-rated God of Small Things. A Fine Balance is beautifully written, with a page-turning plot: it offers no illusions, no 'happy end'. But it is - apart from a wonderfully human story with characters you really feel you know - a crash course in the extreme struggle for survival of the poor, and of the not-so-poor, who wish to lead an independent life. I feel that "this is how life itself would speak, if it could speak". No characters here are made of cardboard - the 'bad guys" are not cinema villains. Another masterful touch, I felt, and the only thing that survives the characters' efforts to make a life for themselves, is the final little act of defiance. Perhaps Mistry is suggesting that only such acts will make things better, no matter what their cost. A very fine book indeed.

[book]
[book]

Seven Years In Tibet - Heinrich Harrer

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

"Seven Years" is certainly one of the best travel books ever written. Reading this book will give you a greater understanding of Tibetan culture and the beauty of the land than any other book I've encountered.



Dispatches - Michael Herr

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

:-) Highly Recommended

Not a 'war' book as such, in that Dispatches doesn't really cover the Vietnam War itself, but a trip through the sheer terror and hell that reigned in the authors head during his time there. The style can be hard to read at times but it's only a short book. Herr manages somehow to capture a very personal experience, a very surreal and frightening experience and put it onto the page for the reader. Trippy, arrogant, freaky, sickening and exciting all in one read. Also recommended on the same topic is The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.

[book]
[book]

Burmese Days - Gorge Orwell

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Orwell's forgotten masterpiece. A work of amazing power which deserves to rank up there with 1984 and Animal Farm. Orwell delivers a wonderful character study of Flory (the main character) and uses the novel to express his own absolute disgust at the way the British Empire was run. Some of the passages contain such wonderful insight into the human condition that they stay in the brain forever. If the ending does not leave you moved, you're made of stone.

The Damage Done: Twelve Years of Hell in a Bangkok Prison - Warren Fellows

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

If you not squeamish and don't mind no holds barred descriptions of truly shocking events then this is for you. Fellows makes it quite clear to the reader that he is not looking for sympathy as he was a convicted heroin smuggler and goes on to describe, in quite compelling style, his time at different Thai prisons. I am not a great reader, but I finished this book in one day flat. Warren Fellows paid the ultimate price for his actions, 12 years in the worlds most notorious prison, Bang Kwang.

[book]
[book]

Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

Currently the hottest book in India and it's pretty easy to see why once you are a hundred pages in. Told as a true story (although you have to wonder at times) you will be hard pressed not to admit it's a gripping read and it will probably be one of the most gripping books you ever read. Based on a specific period of the author's life (mainly set in Bombay) it covers everything from philosophy and ethics to underworld crime and war. We follow the author as he establishes a free health clinic in a slum, does time in an Indian jail, and goes to war in Afghanistan. It is hard to feel anything but completely attached to the main characters even when they may act in ways that we may not necessarily approve of. At a little over 900 pages it may look like a long hard slog but I promise that from the first page you'll be desperate to keep going. Apparently the film rights have already been sold to Johnny Depp and the author, Gregory David Roberts, is in the process of writing a sequel that continues the story of his life.

The Backpacker - John Harris

Buy/view: in the USA (amazon.com), in Canada (amazon.ca) or in the UK (amazon.co.uk)

A current favourite with thousands of copies floating around SEAsia. As much as you might not want to like this book which has clique written all over it, it is an enjoyable and addictive read. Based on an adventure set in SE Asia, the protagonist flees Thailand and go on the run through South East Asia. Most parts are compelling and disturbing, but others are less believable. A true story [apparently] of a guy who (on a three week holiday in India with his fiancé) decides to follow a fellow traveller to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia and Hong Kong..... cheeting death on more than one occasion. Attracting various incidents and women alike, the story twists and turns through various decisions and ambitions. Far from the best book you'll ever pick-up and perhaps slightly over-rated, but a great read and one certainly for those heading to the region and/or enjoyed similar reads.

[book]

If you want to recommend a book or reckon that something has been left out, please get in touch.

"There exists no politician in India daring enough to attempt to explain to the masses that cows can be eaten."

— Indira Gandhi