Months before you book your flight, buying the travel guide is the first promise to yourself that this vacation is happening. Ready to commit to Thailand? You can dip into it after dinner each night and bring your holiday that little bit closer. While Lonely Planet books tend to be ubiquitous best-sellers, Thailand is rightly a popular country with plenty else on the shelves. Which should you choose?
Top 3 most popular Thailand travel guides
#1. Thai phrasebook: Lonely Planet Thai Phrasebook & Dictionary – If you’re going to do something badly while in Thailand – why not try to speak Thai? Most every tourist quickly masters ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in Thai, but a third, fourth or fifth phrase would earn high praise. Get a head start on a few words in this (quite tricky) language with this highly praised pocket reference book. *See our tips for learning Thai
#2. Bangkok map: Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok, 27th Edition – Ideal for exploring and even better for shopping!
#3. Thai etiquette: Dos & Don’ts in Thailand – Essential stuff! It’s easier than you think to cause offence in this polite country. We agree with reviewers: “It prevents embarrassment. It can deflect even a disaster.” *How to be Thailand’s rudest tourist
The 5 best general Thailand travel guides
An update to the popular 2012 version which consistently sits in Amazon’s top 10 for Thailand. 3D illustrations set the DK series apart from the travel guide pack – ideal for those who need a little extra help with directions!
Best of Thai food travel guides
Bangkok travel guides
Walks: 22 Walks in Bangkok
City guide: Pattaya: The Comprehensive Guide
Misc. Thailand travel guides
Birds: Birds of Thailand and A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Southeast Asia *see our full review, plus bird-watching tips for Thailand. Going even more niche: A Naturalist’s Guide to the Butterflies of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand (U.S. version)
TIP! For novels set in Thailand (and children’s bed-time stories), see our favourite books about Thailand.
Exploring Chiang Mai: City, Valley & Mountains – A Chiang Mai expat of twenty-some years tells Chiang Mai’s story, before helping readers to discover the surrounding countryside (journeys unlikely to exist on any bus tour).
Northern Thailand travel
Lonely Planet Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Northern Thailand (UK version) – great for a roaming northern itinerary and especially helpful for planning a route. Thailand coverage includes a little Bangkok, with more on Pai, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle. Fellow travellers suggest that, in this instance, the paperback version is preferable to the ebook.
Lonely Planet Thailand review
UPDATE: Review pertains to the 2014 edition – note the 2016 edition to be released in July
Who is it for? Lonely Planet chases down the cool kids with liberal use of “kinda” and derisory references to strutting “middle-aged men”. Are you a cool kid?
What’s good? A very good Thailand primer section helps you to choose where to go, when and for how long. There’s some needed simplicity when you’re trying to choose between a dozen beach destinations. Section 2 is devoted to Bangkok, under the assumption that most tourists will transit through BKK and might want to see a bit while there.
What’s not? A writing style that’s hard to stomach: “Friendly and fun-loving, exotic and tropical, cultured and historic, Thailand radiates a golden hue from its glittering temples and tropical beaches to the ever-comforting Thai smile”. Yikes. Multiply hyperbole by 800 pages.
Is the layout useful? Excellent use of sidebars, colour-coding and bolded bits. Half an hour with this book and you’ll have extracted all that you were looking for. Too simplistic in parts? Maybe. But a very dependable shortcut.
Is it portable? In a backpack, maybe, but you’re not going to want to carry this book in your handbag. It’s a brick. There’s a Kindle version, though!
Does it cover Koh Samui? Nominally. This edition bizarrely introduces Samui with its golf. It’s a strange item to lead with, as there’s only 1 full-sized, 18-hole course on the island (compared to many more in Phuket, Pattaya, etc). You can golf on Samui but it’s certainly not a destination. As for regional coverage, nearby Koh Phangan and Koh Tao receive similar accommodation/restaurant/nightlife treatment.
Fodor’s Thailand book review
UPDATE: Review pertains to the 2013 edition – note the 2016 edition to be released in May
Best for: Before-you-go research
Who is it for? Sections like “What’s hot in Thailand right now” (teenagers “tapping their feet to J-Pop”) suggests Fodor’s audience is Baby Boomer Plus. It feels – dare we say it – slightly uncool. Do you own a Tilley hat?
What’s good? Not quite as hyper as Lonely Planet, we find there’s more to read. The content is wider-ranging as well, with details on Thai history and a great FAQ on how to eat street food (“What are all the condiments for?”). Intro pages have a great range of suggestions.
What’s not? Again, the writing style is a bit hackneyed: “Bangkok. In this boom-town of contrasts where old-world charm meets futuristic luxury, you can dine at street stalls or ritzy restaurants, visit the jaw-dropping Grand Palace, and shop at Chatuchak Weekend Market or Pathumwan’s designer malls”. Is every travel guide must guilty of such alliteration? We’ll have to check our own!
Is the layout useful? More a book to read than Lonely Planet’s skim-through. However, photos on every page keep it interesting.
Is it portable? No. Also brick-like. Read in advance and leave at home.
Does it cover Koh Samui? There’s a slim section for “the second-most popular Thai island”, however the pro/con coverage of each hotel recommendation is a helpful inclusion. Top Samui sights? Just a few are mentioned – and we suspect you’d find them anyway. Regionally, there are a scant few pages on Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, before moving on to a twice-as-long chapter on Phuket.
Is this the best guide book for you? It’s a great book for doing your research in advance, but a pain to navigate on the go. Perhaps the Kindle version would be better?
Let’s Go Thailand book review
TIP! Of the 3 Thailand travel guides we reviewed, this book is our surprise favourite!
Who is it for? If you’re heading places by bus, this book will help you get there.
What’s good? A surprise favourite, particularly for its Thailand introduction sections. Good cultural tips, including sections on how to bargain (“a cheerful face may prove your best weapon”). The ‘Life and Times’ section should be on every tourist’s reading list. Of the 3, it has the only opening sentence that doesn’t make us want to pull out fingernails: “A perfect blend of natural beauty, compelling culture, and some of the most welcoming citizens in the world, it’s no wonder that Thailand remains one of the most accessible destinations in Southeast Asia”.
What’s not? We didn’t expect to, but we really like this book! (And even learned a bit). It’s printed on newsprint in black and white, but there’s a lot of detail in place of pretty pictures.
Is the layout useful? As a book for students and backpackers, the ‘what to do if you get in trouble’ details are at the front. Aussie Consul General’s phone number? See page 9.
Is it portable? Yes! Very packable.
Does it cover Koh Samui? Good detail if you’re arriving to Samui by boat (as many back-packers do). Beach and accommodation tips stick to “good value for students” – omitting luscious, but pricey, spots. Top Samui sights? Nightlife recommendations are (A) boxing and (B) DJ-ed bars with Red Bull buckets. Not much range here but the book has other strengths.
Is this the best guide book for you? Quite likely – but it’s incredibly hard to find! If you see a reasonably priced secondhand copy on Amazon – snap it up!
Top image used under license from Shutterstock.com