DK Eyewitness Thailand
Are you heading to Thailand in the near-ish future? Have you visited a million times, or would you struggle to find it on a map? Do you live in Thailand?
DK Eyewitness Thailand [Book Review]
Things I learned this week: Thailand has 300,000 temples, 282 mammal species ... and a museum with the preserved remains of a man who ate 7 children. No matter your familiarity with Thailand and its culture – zero or otherwise – grab a pack of sticky tabs, and get comfy: there’s some learning to do. Just for starters? 'Nagas' are believed to control rainfall. Rafflesia flowers are insane. As of this week, I’m a walking Thailand Rain Man thanks to DK Eyewitness.
Recently, I asked the nice people at DK for review copies of their latest Thailand travel guides:
Expecting tidy lists of travel minutia, what arrived instead was 880 pages of small font and huge interest. I read both books cover to cover. They’re fascinating, and – no matter your Thailand plans – you need at least one.
Crack the cover and get set to learn. With idiot-proof maps, colour-coded Thailand itineraries and captioned photos on every page, the books are a great resource to start planning your Thai travel. Yet they're equally useful for anyone who spends time in Thailand, whether frequent visitors or long-term expats. As its focus is broader, my review below covers DK Eyewitness Thailand.
What you’ll get from this book
Going to a Thai cultural night?
Attending a wedding in Thailand?
Want to watch a Muay Thai (Thai boxing) match?
There’s a relevant page for any event you care to name; explaining everything you ever/never wondered, with helpful diagrams, too. You’ll get so much more out of such experiences after reading the relevant DK Eyewitness Thailand pages. Even daily sights (like Buddhist rituals and offerings, gestures seen in Buddha statues, Thai fruit) receive due attention – it’s really interesting.
As a frame of reference, I read about Thailand pretty much all day, every day. I learned so much from this book. By halfway through the Bangkok section, I’d doubled my knowledge of the city. Granted, I don't profess any Bangkok expertise – but still! At 1.6 pounds, it’s a heavy book (the weight of a small pineapple) – jam-packed with Thailand knowledge that wants to live in your brain.
Find five Thailand itineraries right at the front – each mapped, colour-coded and sufficiently varied that even frequent visitors to Thailand will find something new. Combine these with two-day Bangkok and Chiang Mai itineraries and suddenly you have a plan. The book takes a sedate pace, so you never suffer the panic of travel questions introduced and left unanswered. Regional introductions and a Thai history synopsis follow – it’s short enough to read and long enough that you’ll learn something.
TIP! As this book is so packed with material, read it with a pack of coloured sticky tabs to hand.
- Use one colour to flag the meaty stuff, like Thailand’s history, to read later.
- Mark the stuff you have to do in another colour (for me, that’s a definite yes to the Museum of Forensic Medicine, page 129).
- Finally, keep the book’s various sections handy with a third colour, making it easier to skip back and forth between Bangkok details, its maps and the index, for instance.
- In a pinch, both the front and back covers have fold-out flaps to mark your page which are a great help.
My favourite parts (and brand new information!)
Throughout, find diagrams and bite-sized fascination like how Phang Nga Bay was formed, how rice paddies work and how coral reefs function. It’s like dipping back into all the middle school science you barely remember. You’ll be a dangerous weapon at your next pub quiz.
As mentioned, I particularly love the weird, lesser-known and downright macabre museums. You too? First stop: The hospital museum housing “the preserved figure of Si-Oui, a man who suffocated and ate seven children” (page 129). Having said that, I’m not sure I do need to see it – but the gift shop potential leaves me curious.
More? Tuck into the following – Thailand has:
- 300,000 wats (temples), 180 of which are ‘important’
- 282 mammal species (of which 40 are endangered)
- 405 reptiles and amphibians (of which, again, 40 are endangered)
- 1,300 wild orchids
- 10% of the world’s bird species (and there I was proud of our bird list…)
- Perfect asparagus-growing conditions (what!?)
And – the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen – rafflesia flowers. Google it. Mind. Blown.
Maps, photos and 3D drawings
Here’s a treat: DK Eyewitness has multiple photos and helpful captions on every page. If you always skip to the photo section of a Lonely Planet first, this feels like Christmas. With so many photos, even grade-school aged children can skim through the captions and get a lot from the book. Best of all, it’s map-tastic. If you’d struggle to find east while watching a sunrise, you’ll love the maps within.
DK Eyewitness Thailand offers both street-by-street and 3D landmark maps of everywhere you’ll want to visit. Directionally challenged no more. Indeed, the 3D drawings are a tremendous resource. Quickly make sense of the overwhelming scale of sights like the Grand Palace. Learn the layout of a typical Thai temple – I mean, who knew.
This book gives you the most salient points about why to visit somewhere and packs mega cultural and historical detail. Use it to develop your ‘what’ and ‘why’ plans, then pair it with another guide or internet resources heavier on logistics to develop the ‘how’. You’d want to get bar and nightlife recommendations from elsewhere, but will be otherwise ready to hoover up Thailand’s culture, history, art and architecture.
TIP! The longer you give yourself with this book, the more you’ll get from it. If Thailand is still a hazy plan for next year, it’s a great book to acquire today. It’s lighter on logistics than Lonely Planet, but will grant you total subject expertise long before you want or need to choose hotels.
Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai? Koh Samet? Koh Samui?
Start with DK Eyewitness Thailand and you’ll soon know the difference between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, Koh Samet and Koh Samui. You’ll know more about Thailand than many expats. And, if personal experience translates, you’ll be really annoying to your friends and family when you try to share everything you just learned. Enjoy!
As mentioned, I received this book as a review copy.