The best Thailand travel guides
Which Thailand travel guide should you choose? I've read almost all of them – many from cover to cover – and I've even written one.
The best Thailand travel guidebooks
Buying the travel guide is the first promise to yourself that this vacation is finally (finally) happening. Ready to commit to Thailand? The following Thailand travel guides include new editions and major updates for 2023, so it's a great time to start planning. While Lonely Planet books tend to be ubiquitous best-sellers, Thailand is rightly a popular country with plenty else on the shelves.
So – Which Thailand travel guide should you choose? I've read almost all of them – many from cover to cover – and I've even written one. Here's how to find the perfect guidebook for your trip. Enjoy!
Top 3 Thailand travel guides
Lonely Planet Thailand is renewed and refreshed with – I hope – less elephant-riding than last time. This edition covers Bangkok, Central Thailand, Ko Chang, Chiang Mai Province, Northern Thailand, Hua Hin, Southern Gulf, Samui, Lower Gulf, Phuket and the Andaman Coast.
A great starting point to get to grips with Thailand. Lonely Planet chases down the cool kids with liberal use of “kinda” and derisory references to strutting “middle-aged men”. Are you a cool kid? A very good Thailand primer section helps you to choose where to go, when and for how long. There’s some needed simplicity when you’re trying to choose between a dozen beach destinations. A thick section is devoted to Bangkok.
The book makes excellent use of sidebars, colour-coding and bolded bits. Half an hour with it and you’ll have extracted all that you were looking for. Too simplistic in parts? Maybe. But a very dependable shortcut. As for size, you’re not going to want to carry this book in your handbag. It’s a brick. There’s a Kindle version, though!
300,000 temples. 282 mammal species. 'Nagas' are believed to control rainfall. There’s a museum with the preserved remains of a man who ate 7 children. Rafflesia flowers are insane. I’m a walking Thailand ‘Rain Man’ thanks to DK Eyewitness (see my full review). Expecting tidy lists of travel minutia? What you get instead is 384 pages of small font and huge interest.
I read this travel guide cover to cover. It's fascinating, and – no matter your Thailand plans – you need to spend at least one evening devouring it.
I can relate to the joy of a brand new and totally updated guidebook! Fodor’s latest offering promises a full redesign, and includes sections on Cambodia and Laos as well. More a book to read than Lonely Planet’s skim-through. However, photos on every page keep it interesting. Sections like “What’s hot in Thailand right now” (teenagers “tapping their feet to J-Pop”) suggests Fodor’s audience is Baby Boomer Plus. It feels – dare I say it – slightly uncool. Do you own a Tilley hat?
While it's not quite as hyper as Lonely Planet, I find there’s more to read in Fodor’s. The content is wider-ranging as well, with details on Thai history and a great FAQ on how to eat street food (“What are all the condiments for?”). Intro pages have a great range of itinerary suggestions. Portable? Not totally. It’s a great book for doing your research in advance.
Thai language and culture guides
The manual I was missing on my first trip to Thailand. Picking up where the Lonely Planet intro leaves off, this culture guide covers the whos, the hows, the whats and the whys of Thailand culture (and some interesting history) in a very readable manner. You can easily read it in one sitting, emerging much the wiser.
Tip: Love people watching? This book will help you to get much more out of day-to-day observation while you’re in Thailand.
Learn exactly how to dig into Thai street food safely, and with confidence. You’ll learn where to eat, and exactly what (and how) to order (see my full review). This updated book covers Bangkok primarily, with sections on Phuket and Chiang Mai as well.
If you’re going to do something badly while in Thailand – why not try to speak Thai? Most every tourist quickly masters ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in Thai, but a third, fourth or fifth phrase would earn high praise. Get a head start on a few words in this (quite tricky) language with this highly praised pocket reference book.
Koh Samui travel guide
Look at that little beauty. I often say that The Koh Samui Guide is ‘the guide I wish I’d had’ from the start. But my ‘live and learn’ first trip to Koh Samui was still a perfect vacation – as, I hope, yours will be. Still, if you want the cheat-sheet to enjoy Samui like total pros… I’ve literally written the manual. Enjoy!
“I can’t come up with a single suggestion to enhance it. It’s by far the best single spot travel guide I’ve seen, anywhere, and I’m 44 and been around the block (well got lost at one point). I’d say it’s essential and almost a necessity.” – Claus, Denmark
Bangkok travel guides
The new 2023 edition is now available and is a great starting point if you're raring to go. This straightforward guide will help you to plan a superb trip to Bangkok – especially if you’re tight on time.
Avoid tourist traps? This is the guide for you. "This book will lead you to the place where people offer bacon and eggs to tiger temple guardians, and a temple with elaborate effigies of David Beckham, Donald Duck and Popeye."
Depending on your location, this book was published in May 2022 or early 2023. With 288 pages of nothing but Bangkok, this guide book will get you from Chinatown to Chatuchak. Nineteen neighbourhood maps and updated content from Austin Bush (see The Food of Northern Thailand).
Phuket travel guides
The 2023 edition is now available. While the full DK Eyewitness Thailand book might take you a few days to read and digest, the Top 10 books are obviously more bite-sized. Planning a quick visit to Phuket? This will help you see what you need to see, Marie-Kondo-ing the rest.
Truly a pocket book – it's about the size and weight of a Kindle. It covers Phuket Town, Hat Patong, Hat Karon, Hat Kata, Rawai, Hat Kamala, Hat Surin, Ao Bang Thao, Thalang, Northern Beaches and more.
Thailand travel guides for kids
A fun way to introduce kids to Thailand, using stories, songs, crafts and games. Not exactly a travel guide, but part encyclopaedia, part activity book.Tip: Preparing for visiting Thailand with kids? See these favourite children's books for some great bedtime stories about Thailand.
Included with a Kindle Unlimited membership. The fun way to discover Thailand – especially for kids. “No matter where you visit in Thailand – kids enjoy fascinating facts, fun activities, useful tips, quizzes and Leonardo (your child’s tour guide)!” Available in Kindle and paperback.
“Whether preparing for a vacation, or simply wanting to learn about Thai, this book gives you all you need to know, fun places to visit, tasty food to try, and fun, interactive pop quizzes throughout.” Available in paperback and for Kindle.
Hate reading? Prefer sleeping?
Free with an audible trial. Any efforts to learn a word or two of Thai will pay off. Again, unlike many parts of Asia, Thais will be far happier to teach you their language than pester for English tips. If you've been meaning to kick your "fall Asleep in front of Netflix" habit, this might be a useful place to start. Learn basic Thai greetings, how to count and helpful beginner Thai over 7+ hours of lessons.
Any nature or field guides for seeing birds and animals in Thailand?
Yes! This sub-set of Thailand travel guides starts niche ... and gets nichier (sea slugs, anyone?). In no particular order:
- Diving: Diving & Snorkelling Guide to Thailand
- Durian: The Durian Tourist's Guide to Thailand
- Birds: A Naturalist's Guide to the Birds of Thailand
- Birds: Birds of Thailand (Princeton Field Guides)
- Animals: Field Guide to the Mammals of South-East Asia
- Butterflies: A Naturalist's Guide to the Butterflies of Thailand
- Fish: A Field Guide to Tropical Reef Fishes
- Sea slugs: Nudibranchs and Sea Slugs of Koh Tao and Nearby Islands
For what it's worth, I have both the bird books and recommend them thoroughly.
What's a good German language Thailand travel guide?
Try Stefan Loose Reiseführer Thailand Der Süden. I can’t read a word of it, but German friends tell me this is the book to have if you want German-language advice for Thailand. (As I can’t vouch for the content, it will surely weigh down the towel you’ll use to claim your pool bed at dawn =)
Can you recommend any Thai cookbooks?
Yes! See this list – you'll find thirty-three superb Thai cookbooks for all skill levels, including four German-language books, plus niche options for noodle-lovers, lazy but greedy people and, fine, vegetarians, too. As a quick summary, I recommend:
- Maenam if you want to challenge yourself
- Thailand: The Cookbook as a beautiful gift
- Simple Thai Food if you're a beginner with high hopes
The best Thailand travel guides
To add to your Thailand knowledge, see even more recommendations below.
- The 33 Best Thai Cookbooks
- The Best Books about Thailand
- Favourite Children’s Books about Thailand
- The Best Audiobooks about Thailand