Can Wiki Travel?
Touring Thailand with only the Internet as my guide.
The bungalows here get the aesthetics just right. They're rustic without being shabby, made of teak wood, spacious and full of that "bungalow in the jungle" atmosphere.
But here's what one former guest had to say:
pool half full of stagnant water. could hear every word of conversation in next bungalow. toilet that leaked all over bathroom. strange place. avoid.
If Wikitravel contained that kind of commentary, along with real photos of places people have stayed, it would be twice as useful as it is today. In Wikitravel's defense, its operators probably fear that if the site invited users to post strong opinions, it might quickly sink into flame wars over whether Khao San Road is a charming open-market street or a debauched tourist gutter. And Wikitravel is striving for something greater than the amicable give-and-take on Travelfish: The creation of one definitive assessment that reflects the overlapping consensus of many different types of people.
Fair enough, but to my mind, that's an encyclopedia or a constitution, not a travel guide. Useful travel writing is all about accurate information paired with stark opinion, not consensus or deliberative democracy.
In the end, my trip was saved by Travelfish. (I made it both to Koh Phi Phi and Tonsai beach). But is it time to put away the guidebooks for good? I'm not so sure. Yes, I was happy with Travelfish. But not happy enough to remain entirely faithful to the Web. About halfway through the trip, I ran into a bookstore, grabbed Lonely Planet Thailand, and hurriedly paged through it, eyes bulging slightly. I just had to know what I might be missing.
Illustration by Rob Donnelly.