Myanmar LP

Ditching the Guidebook, the Burma Challenge

  by Dustin Main10 Comments

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This article is part of a series on travel in Burma / Myanmar.

The days of the guidebook, long a staple for the long term traveler, are numbered.  Go grab that last old, beaten-up guidebook from your bookshelf and trade it in while you still can.  The digital revolution may make it a thing of the past.

See, guidebooks have a few key flaws that really show in our new travel world.

  1. They are already outdated by the time you pick them up off the shelf.  The research was done months or years ago, and in some places that time can make a world of difference.
  2. The ‘guidebook effect’ kills great picks.  Meaning that often the places that were once “quiet little gems on the sea” are now inundated with tourists with prices through the roof and service in the toilet.
  3. There are never enough pages.  How can you fit an entire region or country into a few hundred pages?

myanmarLPAdmittedly, this goes double for the trip to Burma (Myanmar) I’m currently on.  The country is changing, and FAST.  After being told for years by the democratic movements inside the country to stay away, tourists are now being asked to come as the country prepares to open up.

There are some serious challenges for the purely digital traveler here.  Internet is slow and flaky at best, and mobile data is virtually non-existent.  It’s a serious challenge for a digital traveler.  Can I do it?

Here is what I’m using to fill the gap while traveling sans traditional guidebook.


Doing for travel what Wikipedia has done for, well, information.  Whether it is information about accommodation, the history of a location or plenty of outbound links for what you can’t find on the site, there plenty to see.  Given it is a wiki, it is editable by anyone anytime, making Wikitravel a great starting point for doing your research.

On Burma: Though incomplete on Burma (especially as you drill down to smaller areas), it has information added daily regarding prices, fees, and visas.  Other, more traveled countries are more thorough.

Tip: Save pages to your mobile device for offline reading later with an app like Pocket.


taThe kingpin of independent travel reviews on the web.  If you’re looking for something to do, somewhere to eat, or somewhere to sleep, chances are you’ll find a review or 100 on Tripadvisor.  Sort by the best rated, price, or even the closest to you.

On Burma: Likely the best place for accommodation information for a country like Burma.  With new hotels, and prices doubling within the past few months, it is the best way to find a quality place from up-to-date reviews.

Tip: Using the mobile app, you can save hotel, restaurant, and cool attractions to refer to them later.


Long part of the travel blog community myself, it’s obviously one of my top places for finding information for future adventures.  You get quality information, photos, and a personal take that you just can’t get anywhere else.

I’ve traveled to many places I’ve had no idea about until I happened upon a little blog entry.  As a nice bonus, you might even get a personal contact from the author to help you with more details.

On Burma: With the lack of visitors until recently the past few years, quality information is hard to find.  This is changing quickly with blogs such as A Little Adrift, Nomadic Notes posting from a month or so back and plenty of good information from Legal Nomads, Uncornered Market, and On Our Own Path.  Still, it’s one of tougher destinations for blogs.

Tip: Save the best posts to your smartphone with something like or Pocket.


Guys like Lonely Planet and Travelfish are already ahead of the game when it comes to travel apps.  There are location specific apps such as a LP’s Paris Travel Guide, and many language apps.

Some freebees like those from World Nomads will give you a limited vocabulary, while some pay ones will even translate your speech to another language, all while offline.

On Burma: Not much out there.

Tip: Make sure the app will work offline without the need for a data connection.

Digital Guidebooks

The same guidebook, just in a handy PDF to toss on your tablet, smartphone, or laptop.  Might even be able to save a few bucks if you need just a chapter or two, and the digital download will cost you less than the paperback will new as well.

On Burma: This is my backup.  I’m a little anti-guidebook, but Burma is just proving too tough for planning much in advance.

Tip: In some places, you might want to be careful waving your iPad out in public as you’re trying to read the address for the restaurant you want to eat at.  It may become someone else’s.

Burma could be one of the toughest countries to tackle as a digital nomad.  I’ll report how I do when I’m back on the world wide web.

About the Author

Dustin Main

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Dustin just can't get enough travel or technology, but when he's not directly feeding one of those insatiable habits, you can probably find him at some far away ice cream shop taking pictures of empty cups. That, or on top of a mountain somewhere shooting photos and finding adventures to share on his website "A Skinny Escape".


  1. Dustin, Yours has rapidly become my favorite blog. While I am a big fan of Trip Advisor, sometimes their reviews are more than suspect (meaning hotel owners, employees and family are writing fake reviews–or worse yet, dissing the competition with fake reviews; this seems to be worst in Vietnam) and my rule is to never choose a hotel based on a small collection of reviews unless the reviewers have many other reviews out there. I’m a bit concerned about your comment on showing an iPad, since I found Burma to be one of the safest places I’ve ever visited, but that was before the hordes started coming in; hope the increase in tourism doesn’t change the lovely attitudes of the people too much.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the great comment Bruce. I can echo your sentiments about being cautious about taking too much from reviews. I know some sites specifically block IPs from certain countries (Vietnam in particular, also Northern Africa) to try and prevent the fake reviews and posts from happening.

      As for the iPad comment, I didn’t mean to single out Burma with the mention. More that if you flash your bling, anywhere in the world, you might find yourself without it.

      I also found Burma to be very safe… for a couple of reasons. Of course, the people are amazing, but the threat of consequences for doing ANYTHING to a foreigner there would be much worse than breaking any moral code I’m sure.

      People will be flocking there in the next few years certainly, but I still found that I had the place to myself nearly all the time. It was wonderful!

  2. Your opinion: Burma or Myanmar?
    I was in Myanmar a few weeks back and the locals I spoke to (thus a tiny percentage who spoke fair Eng), preferred Myanmar, as ‘Burma’ is associated with colonial rule.

    1. It’s a good question, and one plagued with controversy. I think the Wikipedia article does a reasonable job of laying out the background. but we’re not making a political statement either way on this site by which name we use. 🙂

    2. Author

      Just wanted to add my 2c on this.

      I found that nearly all the people I spoke with in the country referred to it as Myanmar as well. Of course, it’s been that way for 20 years, so it’s not hard to understand why they would.

      Outside of the country, most nations refer to the country as Burma, not because of the colonial ties, but because the name change was made by a govt that many nations give little credit to.

      In the end, no right answer, so I try to make mention of both.

  3. How about local Couchsurfers? Is there a Couchsurfing community in Burma?

    1. Author

      There is a small couchsurfing community in the country, mostly made up of expats. The poor internet service makes meetups and the like very difficult though.

      Also, foreigners are not allowed to stay anywhere that isn’t govt authorized (including the majority of hotels), and although you may be able to stay with someone, you could be risking their safety.

      On two occasions, I was invited to stay with families in Burma, but I declined as I didn’t want to inadvertently get them into trouble. Hopefully this will change in the near future.

  4. Interesting post, and great tip on apps to save info for offline reading!

    I’ve experimented with going without a print guide book for the past year and found it way too frustrating. I don’t do a lot of planning in advance so I reserve my flights for reading to get an overview of the history, economy, food, and basics of a place (i.e options for getting from the airport), which guidebooks are great for. I never use their lodging/restaurant tips which are out of print as soon as they are published.

    First, I tried buying a Lonely Planet on Kindle and reading it on my laptop. Problem was, the second reason I use print guidebooks are for the maps and having it on a computer is not handy. I saved it to my phone, but the Kindle app wouldn’t zoom in, so I couldn’t read the maps anyway!

    Also, I spent WAY too much time on the road scouring the communities that I was visiting looking for wifi just so I can do a bit of trip planning. At first I thought these troubles were due to the fact I mostly travel in Latin America, but on our recent visits to well-connected London and Paris I had a hell of a time finding free wifi. Sure it was available if I wanted to go out of my way to look for it (mostly at places like McDonalds and Starbucks), but I didn’t, so I spent most of the time disconnected. It was frustrating, though a needed digital detox 🙂

    I’m sad to see publishers cutting back on their print publications when we are just not at a point yet where technology can fully replace them.

    1. Author

      I’m also not much of a planner. Takes to much of the magic away in my opinion. I don’t really like to go in completely ‘blind’ either… I need to be somewhere in the middle when it comes to my information.

      I totally agree that guidebooks haven’t found a good way to transition to digital yet. We’ll see if they figure that out before they go out of business.

      Thanks for the excellent comment Cassie.

  5. Despite not having bought a paper guidebook for years, I still find them quite useful when leafing through them at guesthouses. I think for many destinations there is a lot of life in them yet.
    I’m not a fan of tripadvisor. In fact I hate it. I just don’t find it reliable especially because the people giving ratings haven’t usually gone and looked at other hotels in the same town find out what is reasonable for that town. It’s almost how sometimes when I get to a new town and think the first place Iook at is a winner only go discover that the whole town has even better places to stay.

    And wiki travel… For the places I’ve looked at, it’s not usuable. Incorrect information, too little detail and issues with how up to date the information is. It really needs a lot of work for places like Laos to be even close to lonely planet or travelfish. I’m not sure that will ever change in the places that don’t receive as many tourists.

    Having said all that, I’m not sure what the future is, but I am sure that paper is on the decline, especially for people on short holidays and to destinations that are popular and already have plenty of free stuff written about them online.

    Good to hear your point of view!

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