A few months ago, I interviewed Panama Guidebook author William Friar. Moon Guidebooks liked it so much they asked me if I wanted to review their Thailand guidebook and interview the author. Since I am always interested in what people write about my favorite country, I agreed.
I found the book to be a lot like the Panama book and other Moon Guidebooks I have read. Lots of history and story but short on detailed practical information. There is information on what to see, where to stay, and where to eat but not like there is in a Lonely Planet. Then again LP gives you about 1200 pages of information with pages and (sometimes too many) pages of places to stay and where to eat. The Moon Guidebook is only 400 pages long.
One thing that Moon does very well is find authors who tell stories well and this is no exception. There focus always seem to be more about giving you the history and culture of a place than telling you were to find the best breakfast place or coolest club. Like William Friar and his Panama guidebook, author Suzanne Nam tells the story of each area of Thailand well, giving you a lot of the background and history of each place. Everyone wants something different in their guidebook, which is why so many companies exist. Moon continues to be the guidebook for those looking for something besides raw intel. It’s the guidebook for those who want the story behind the destination and this book continues on that strength.
Nomadic Matt: How long have you lived in Thailand?
Suzanne: I’ve been here for almost four years. I arrived in May 2005 for the first time to work as a newspaper reporter. I thought I’d be here for a year or two but haven’t left yet!
How did you end up as a guidebook writer?
I’d been working as a reporter for a while when I saw an advertisement for the job. I contacted Moon, sent them a detailed proposal and then talked to one of their editors.
When writing the Thailand books, how do you decide what goes in and what doesn’t go in?
All travelers are different. What one person thinks is the perfect vacation another might not like at all. Things I enjoy or think are really cool might not appeal to every reader. And people have different budgets and time constraints. So I try to include destinations, sights, food, accommodations across a very broad spectrum, so everyone finds things they are happy with. But whatever I include, it has to be the best option available, whether it’s a five star resort or a $15 bungalow, street food or a fancy restaurant. The only rule is nothing mediocre or disappointing unless I’ve warned the reader in advance and there’s a really compelling reason to include it.
Thailand is a pretty touristy country. How would you recommend people traveling there get the local experience?
There are very touristy places in Thailand but really most of the country is just going about daily life! To get a real local experience, pick any of the smaller cities or beaches and just go. You may not find lots of folks who speak English or many well-worn paths, but you will generally find friendly, accommodating people who’ll do their best to help you out. People tend to want to go to places where others have gone before, but the great thing about Thailand is that there are plenty of beautiful, interesting or otherwise worthwhile places to visit. If you want to see what life in Bangkok is like, don’t stay on Khao San Road. If you want to go to beaches but don’t want too many tourists, don’t go to Ko Samui or Phuket. Try Satun, Trang, Khanom, or Sichon, where the other guests at your hotel or bungalow will probably be Thai families on vacation. In the more touristy areas, such as Chiang Mai, Bangkok or Phuket, you can get a local experience if you just walk a couple of blocks from the most touristy areas. Even in Bangkok, a very worldly city, there are plenty of neighborhoods in the city center where you won’t find any tourists. Have dinner on Nakhon Chaisi Road, which is about a mile from some of the city’s best sights, and chances are you’ll be the only non-Thai person there. And wherever you are, when you find someone you can communicate with, go out of your way to talk to them and ask them about their life!
Every guidebook has its own personality. How would you describe your guidebook’s personality?
Selective. There are plenty of books, websites, and other resources out there, so it’s easy for travelers to find information if they just want to know how to get somewhere or where the hotels are. I can’t compete with the Internet, and I don’t want to just spout out an exhaustive list of all the places to go, all the sights to see, all the hotels to stay at, and all the restaurants to eat at. What travelers really need is advice, someone to cull all that information, help them make sense of it all, and pick the best thing for them. Whether you’re a backpacker with three months or a vacationer with ten days, I want you to have the best experience possible.