Title: Fodor’s Thailand, 11th edition: With Side Trips to Cambodia & Laos
Author: Hana Borrowman
Editor: Joanna G. Cantor
Release date: July 7, 2009
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 3 out of 5
Back in February, Jack and I spent two fast-paced weeks in Thailand on vacation. When we decided to travel there, we checked out from the library two guidebooks on the country: Lonely Planet Thailand and Fodor’s Thailand. We decided to buy our own copy of the latter to bring with us.
We liked the ten-day tour of Thailand it outlined. We also considered, in the early planning stages of our trip, going on side trips to Laos or Cambodia; having them all in one book might have been useful if we’d decided to do so.
Jack and I have a laid-back style when it comes to planning our trips. We tend not to book too many hostels or tickets in advance, preferring to make plans depending on how we feel that day. In order to travel that way, though, you need a great travel book that is able to provide solid advice when you end up spending the night in an unexpected place.
(Thailand is also not the best country for that kind of travelling; even in the off-season, hostels, planes, and trains were booked well in advance.)
When we found ourselves without a hostel reservation unexpectedly in Bangkok, the book wasn’t much help. It suggested we stay in the Silom neighborhood, which is popular with travelers. What they didn’t mention was unless you want to pay a good bit, you end up in crappy hotels.
Perhaps I expect too much from a guidebook, but I find them most useful when you need to get out of trouble—like when we found ourselves staying in Surat Thani, a transportation hub, for a night.
The book’s only hotel recommendation for the town was all right, but the hotel’s restaurant, which the book claims is “among the best in Surat Thani,” was easily the worst meal we had the entire trip—including the airplane food. The book offered no further dining options, so we ventured out on our own.
The Koh Tao recommendation was decent, though I imagine that almost any place on Koh Tao would be lovely! And it recommended an “off the beaten track” trip to Angthong National Marine park out of Koh Samui, which was easily the best part of the trip.
In Chiang Mai, it told us the climb up Doi Suthep to a famous wat, or temple. It describes in detail the time it would take to climb it, points of interest along the way, and where to find the beginning of the trail. We spent half a day figuring out that the guidebook was quite wrong—the entrance to the trail is several kilometers up the winding road, and very difficult to find on one’s own. In fact, everyone we talked to in trying to discover the entrance—including employees at the nearby zoo—laughed at us when we tried to explain that we wanted to walk up the mountain. We ended up hiring an exhaust-filled songthaew, or pickup-taxi, to drive us up; not the scenic hike we’d imagined.
In Chiang Mai, seven out of Fodor’s top eleven attractions are wats. Let me tell you—after the first half-dozen wats you see in Thailand, they all start blurring together. I would have liked more varied recommendations, which we ended getting through a travel service.
One of the best parts of the entire trip was our visit to the Tiger Kingdom. When we arrived in Chiang Mai, we discovered ads for it plastered across every tuk-tuk and hostel in town, but our guidebook makes no mention of this very compelling attraction.
The cultural sections on each area were nice; we learned the difference between food in the north and south, and we learned a lot about the history of each area. In fact, I would’ve liked them to be longer.
The guidebook typically recommended rather posh hotels (the Four Seasons is almost always its top recommendation) and family-friendly attractions. That wasn’t the kind of vacation we were looking for, so it took a little more digging to find suitable accommodations.
Everyone we met clutched well-worn copies of Lonely Planet Thailand, and we began to wish we’d gone with that book instead; Lonely Planet seems to work better with young travelers on a budget, while I might recommend Fodor’s to families or those who want to be pampered on their vacations.