If you’re planning a trip to Thailand, this book might be just the thing to read before landing in The Land of Smiles. With over a hundred essays divided into nine chapters, this book offers a wealth of information about traveling in this country, from places you can eat jungle food (crocodile, anyone?) and the proper way to snack on bugs (those cricket legs might cause a slight problem), to famous temples where you can get a tattoo or have your fortune read, superstitions, island getaways and lesser known spa treatments, just to name a few topics. More than seventy writers have shared their stories and experiences and made reading this book a truly enjoyable experience. The photos are very beautiful as well, and the glossy pages enhance the reading pleasure.
It’s not only the beautiful side that the writers have explored in their essays, but also valuable information, like ways to avoid tourist scams and places you can help by volunteering or donating objects or cash. Thanks to the practical information, be it a website, address or telephone number, the reader can find out where to donate a used bicycle and old computer parts, or where they can offer their time to help children and animals in need, through various foundation programs.
Having lived in Thailand for more than a decade, it was refreshing to see the country through new perspectives and adventures. Some of the places I was happy to see mentioned in these essays were bookstores with English books like Kinokuniya, a true paradise for booklovers, Asia Books, and also Dasa Book Café, a secondhand bookstore I sometimes visit, and last but not least Neilson Hays Library, whose white building and cool, wood decorated interior reminds me of home.
I had to smile when reading about a writer’s experience with Songkhran (Thai New Year), the days-long-water-throwing festival which the locals celebrate every mid-April. During this time, Thailand is a water drenched place where no one is dry for long, unless they travel everywhere in a car. For some reason I was never able to enjoy this much loved Thai celebration, and don’t see the fun in being drenched with freezing water the moment I step out of the house, without having any say in the matter. Nevertheless, I’m happy to see that other people enjoy it.
What I liked the most about the book was that each writer brought their own individuality into the stories and shared their tips with the reader. Some of these places I’ve never been to despite the fact that they are not that far from where I live – the small island of Koh Kret is one of them, and others, like Wat Suan Mokkh in the Surat Thani province, where one can go on a ten-day silent meditation retreat. The retreat is not free, despite of what is stated in the book – a look at their website revealed a non-refundable registration fee. It is, however, one of the things I would like to do in the near future and I’m glad I found out about this place. No speaking, vegetarian food, yoga and meditation, and least desirable of all, sleeping on a concrete bed with only a straw mat and a wooden pillow for comfort. I think it would be an unforgettable experience, in more ways than one.
I’m glad I had the chance to read this book and I intend to use it as a basic guide when planning future trips. It was fun to read how others have spent their holidays in this beautiful country. Being here for so long, I’m afraid I lost some of that ability to fully enjoy and appreciate the uniqueness of Thai culture.
Many thanks to Joe Shakarchi, one of the contributing writers, who provided me with a copy in return for an honest review.
My rating: 4/5 stars
*Read in February 2014