Lonely Planet Thailand 12

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First published 12th September, 2007

You've just finished your final morning of two weeks basking on the Perhentian Islands in northeast peninsular Malaysia, and you're ready for Thailand. You'll get to the border late afternoon, giving yourself enough time to cross at Sungai Kolok and get to the first provincial capital of Narathiwat before nightfall. You've heard the BBC, CNN and your Mum talk about the troubles in Thailand's far south, but you're confident that as long as you travel in daylight and sleep in the major centres you'll be fine. After all, you've got the latest edition (August 2007) of Lonely Planet's Thailand guidebook stuffed in your pack -- what could go wrong?

Well, unfortunately a lot.

I'd like to thank Lonely Planet for their complimentary copy of the Thailand 12th edition and co-ordinating author China Williams who generously spent time answering questions about the title via email.

Thailand 12 coverDespite having a swack of extra pages, overall Lonely Planet's 12th edition of its Thailand title succeeds only in delivering less than previous editions. While some sections, notably Chiang Mai province, have improved, other coverage drags down what should have been a far better title.

For starters, coverage of Thailand's strife-torn far south has been largely gutted. Maps of the provincial capitals have all been deleted and accommodation listings drastically cut, border-crossings are either vaguely treated or simply not mentioned. So there you are, in the very situation when you really need a guidebook -- crossing a border into an area known to have security concerns -- and the book is close to worthless. The coverage of this unstable region is far superior in Lonely Planet's previous edition, so if you're heading that way, be sure to pop into the library and photocopy the relevant sections. Of course it could be worse -- the recently released (June 2007 -- review coming soon) Footprint title, doesn't cover the region at all -- not even Songkhla province.

Compare this to Thailand 12's west coast border-crossing coverage: there's timetable information, costs and trip durations -- even notes on how many people a chartered boat will hold. Comparing these two sections, it's very difficult to take Lonely Planet's claim that "when we update our guidebooks, we check every listing, in person, every time" at face value.

Lonely Planet has a number of overlapping books, including "Bangkok" and "Thailand's Islands and Beaches". Both of these, will probably, I'd hope, have more comprehensive coverage than the respective sections in this new edition.

Bangkok's Khao San area has just six budget guesthouses -- all of which were in the previous edition. Other examples: Mae Nam beach, Ko Samui (three listings), Ban Tai and Ban Khai, Ko Pha Ngan (one listing). On the other hand, Chiang Mai (which unlike Bangkok and Southern Thailand doesn't have it's own title) has two dozen budget listings (admittedly for the entire city rather than just one area).

While you could argue that somewhere like Khao San Rd is self-explanatory, I think a few more recommendations -- especially from among the bevy of places that have opened since the last edition -- would have been good. Bangkok does do better on its flashpacker and mid-range scene and a new section for Ko Rattanakosin, including little-known gems like Ibrik, Chakrabongse Villas and Arun Residence stands out.

Likewise when you're talking about beach bungalows you could argue "they're all the same" but the fact is they're not, and you may find yourself more than a little disappointed being supplied with a single listing for Ban Tai and Ban Kai on Ko Pha Ngan -- an area with well over 50 places to choose from. Entire beaches, including one of the best on the island, entirely escape mention. On Thailand's west coast, Ko Phi Phi's coverage pointedly avoids mentioning any of the budget haunts on the east coast of the island and instead steers budgeteers to Ton Sai village and it's immediate surrounds -- arguably the least attractive part of the entire island and certainly not the place to go if you're looking for a quality budget bungalow. Many of Phi Phi's luxury places though -- including Zeavola (16,000 - 37,000B a night) -- do get a mention, which leads to my next point.

There is a detectable shift in the focus of the book, at least regarding accommodation, with more space seemingly given over to flashpacker and mid-range places. Seeing over half a page dedicated to "Samui's top five top-end resorts" may have the old backpacker stalwarts rolling over in their hammocks, but it's a valid reflection of a tourist scene that is attracting travellers, backpackers, flashpackers and top-end-resort layabouts -- unfortunately this title will struggle to satisfy them all.

It's not all bad though.

The coverage of Chiang Mai is about as comprehensive as a guide can be.

The accommodation listings are thorough and numerous. Likewise the food, entertainment and shopping sections are all done well. Filling out the package nicely are cut-out sections for pummeling and pampering, quirky sights and markets -- should keep the flashpackers and shoppers happy.

The northeast section is also very good. Big-ticket destinations here are covered just as well as the more obscure, lesser known haunts, there's plenty of maps and some encouraging pointers to homestays dotted through the region. A long, informative, boxed text detailing the Phi Ta Khon festival is included. If you're planning significant time in Isan with this title, you'll be well served.

Thailand 12 carries 150 maps -- including 17 pages dedicated to Bangkok.

Aside from the above mentioned shortcomings in the far south, the majority of spots you're likely to need a map for are covered. The colour, countrywide map is easy to read though oddly doesn't mark the border crossings.

Thailand's a photogenic country and the selection of photos does a good job of selling the Kingdom. A 16-page full colour insert on "Thailand's Natural Wonders" succinctly covers Thailand's environmental state of affairs.

I was surprised though to see a photo of the Tiger Temple placed atop a list of environmental volunteering opportunities -- while I assume the placement is incidental, it's unfortunate given the ongoing controversy regarding the conservation "value" of breeding tigers in a stone quarry as the Tiger Temple does.

So if you're going to Thailand, are not going to the far south and don't plan to cross any borders, how is the book? Well it depends.

If this is your first time to the Kingdom and you don't consider yourself to be too demanding when it comes to guidebooks, then you'll find Thailand 12 to be just a satisfactory buy. Likewise, if you're happy just to be pointed in the right direction, you'll probably find it to be ok.

On the other hand, if you're a bit more demanding and you like to have a good range of accommodation recommendations to choose from, then you'd be well advised to either stick with the previous edition or consider an alternative guidebook.

Buy Lonely Planet's Thailand 12 from Amazon.com

Have you used the latest edition of Lonely Planet's Thailand guidebook? If so, please add your feedback on the Travelfish forum here. Thanks!

Rough Guides: Thailand 6th edition
Footprint: Thailand 6th edition.

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About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

Read 5 comment(s)

  • Dude, how can you seriously give unbiased reviews on guidebooks when you are in direct competition with them? Also there's tons of stuff of your site that's years out of date - people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

    Posted by Brain Dead on 6th August, 2009

  • Braindead,

    Ahh Lonely Planet gave us the book for free and asked us to review it.

    Stuart @ Travelfish

    Posted by Stuart at Travelfish on 6th August, 2009

  • Thanks for the good review. Are you guys going to do a follow up piece on the new LP guide that just came out (edition 13), or have you heard any word about it?

    Posted by Erin on 16th August, 2009

  • Hi Erin,

    No sorry -- LP had a bit of a hissy fit after the above review -- and we decided it wasn't worth the hassle to continue reviewing their books (or any guidebooks for that matter) -- sorry can't be of more help.

    Posted by somtam2000 on 17th August, 2009

  • I read the previous edition and I must say I was quite disappointed with LP's extremely superficial perspective on what is worth visiting and what is not. The two striking examples are the towns of Surat Thani and Lampang, both being briefly described as mere checkpoints on the way to Samui/Phangan, Thai Elephant Conservation Center/Bangkok/Chiang Mai respectively. The two towns, which I had the pleasure to visit repeatedly, have a lot of amazing attractions for anyone interested in the real Thai life, customs and traditions.

    The huge, amazing on-stilts community living along the picturesque banks of the Tapee river in Surat Thani is definitely not something to be missed.

    Likewise, the 10 unique Burmese temples or the historic Taladkao Road in Lampang - which happens to be the center of a kingdom 600 years Lanna's senior - are also worth including in any guidebook meant for adult, literate traveler.

    Lonely Planet has turned this world into a shopping mall.

    Posted by Brad Florescu on 23rd January, 2012

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