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Lonely Planet Thailand (8th ed) Paperback – August, 1999
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As usual the guidebook standard is set by Lonely Planet-- Outside
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If you want to venture to the true beauty of Thailand, true land of smiles, than use LP as a terrific reference. If you want someone else to plan your whole trip and be part of a tour group, then call a travel agent or buy the "other" books.
Re: 7th edition: "Loi Krathong" (Festival of Lights - last full moon in November) needs more detailed information for more cities in Thailand and the festival itself. For me, this was THE festival of the year - great to observe pre-celebration, too. The flowers, floats, parades, food, atmosphere... This was one of my highlights of the trip. (We spent pre-festivities in Bangkok; actual festival in Ayuthaya). Joe only briefly mentions that it's "best to celebrate in the North." Don't let this discourage you from celebrating it elsewhere in Thailand.
Having traveled with various guide books, nothing so far beats the Lonely Planet guide books. But you must keep in mind as a user - all recommendations are merely recommendations. Investigate comments, take in the facts. (The comments are usually funny and helpful anyway). The cultural background information, history, and other side notes help make the difference to buy Lonely Planet instead of the others. Joe Cummings' LP books on Thailand, Bangkok & the phrasebook were superb. I liked his insight. LP helps you be a traveler, not just a tourist. (Other LP books used: Israel, Turkey, Greece, Western Europe, Baltics, Asia, and Hong Kong. They've all been worth their weight and size). If you can take your own luggage off the baggage carousel, you must use Lonely Planet.
The guide is indispensible for everybody who wants to have a REAL good trip through Thailand, because the best way to do it is by yourself and not on an organized trip. The country is very accessible with a good road system and excellent public transport. There are more than 25 domestic airports and most fares from Bangkok are around $ 100 return. If you want to go even cheaper bus and train provide excellent alternatives
Since four years I am living in Thailand and in that time I have, mainly for my work, traveled through the country extensively. Still, I never go out on a trip without taking this book with me and it helped me enjoy very much the places I traveled to as well as given me many good local itineraries. Let me give a few examples.
When I was the first time in Pitsanoluk I was intrigued by the guide's description of the Wat Yai and went for a visit. This temple is little known among tourists but it is one of three most revered among the Thai people and if you really want to enjoy Thai religious life there is no better place than this temple.
In Chiang Rai I had a day top cover between business meetings and reading the guide decided to travel along the border to the old Kuo Mintang settlements. Apart from the amazing landscapes the villages themselves like Mae Salong were absolutely intriguing.
On another trip I had half a day before leaving Chiang Mai and decided, after reading the guide, to go to Doi Inthanon, the National Park. The views at 6000ft were absolutely superb and the whole trip was very enjoyable.
I could give many, many more examples but that would surpass the purpose of this review.
There are in my view three reasons why every aspirant traveler to the Kingdom should invest in buying the guide.
First, it is a welth of information. Apart from the normal stuff, the guide contains many "gray sections" with wonderful information telling you e.g.why the Thais love their kings so much, what the role is of the elephant in daily life, the background of the Railway station in Hua Hin etc.etc. Above all, the info on the various festivals is very good and if you have the chance make sure you participate in one, in particular Loy Kratong.
Second, the guide is very practical for planning your trip.The getting around sections are good.The information it contains on hotels etc. is accurate and, because the Thai telephone system has not changed in the past years, most of the telephone numbers of hotels and guest houses are still usable. It is always advisable to pre-arrange lodging. The restaurant information is OK as well. I have tried a lot of the restaurants in Bangkok described in the guide and in most cases the impressions are spot on.
Third, it gives good advise on how to behave. Thailand is a very friendly country but not as regulated as some Western countries. The sections on travelling and trekking ( go in groups and not alone, especially if you are female)or which part of the border with Cambodia or Myanmar need to be avoided because it is still controlled by the druglords, must be read. Unfortunately, every couple of monthes in the local papers we see the horror stories of those who did not follow this advise. Also the sections on ilnesses, aids and prostitution may be relevant. There are many lighter sections as well; on the Thai smile, the wai etc., which must be read to understand what to do and to enjoy it.
Finally a word on Pattaya. I think the guide gives it exactly the attention it deserves. Pattaya is nice for a short beach break from Bangkok but if you have more than a weekend or if you can afford to fly, the beaches of Samui, Phuket and Krabi are much more exotic and beautiful ( white sand and palm beaches). If you go to Pattaya for the nightlife you do not need a guide; the girls and the neon lights live absolutely nothing to the imagination...
In sum, Thailand should be traveled on an individual basis ( proably the easiest one to do that in SE Asia) and this book not only helps doing that but it also makes the planning a lot of fun. Enjou your trip.
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