Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tony Doesn't Live Here Anymore: The Shrinking World of the No Longer Lonely Planet

This incredible shrunken view of the US from a New Yorker's perspective came to mind as I recently wandered through the 14th edition of Lonely Planet's Thailand. Sometimes I think I buy this only to see what's disappeared from the Kingdom. With each new edition, another destination has been extinguished--poof! Now you see it, now you don't.

I bought this solely because Austin Bush is one of the researchers-- he is a man who knows Thai food and writes about it very well. (I'm certain he's the reason why my favorite book about Bangkok is recommended in the Eating in Thailand section: Bangkok's Top 50 Street Food Stalls by Chawadee Nualkhair, aka And he didn't disappoint me--if there is one reason to buy this tome, it's for the food pointers and recommendations, which for Bangkok and Chiang Mai are outstanding. In the other provinces? Not so much, which is the big weakness of the 14th edition.

"Oh Thailand it appears we're growing old together," author China Williams mourns in her back of the book bio. When a guidebook writer finds that her territory is growing old, then it's time to find a new writer. With this current batch, what used to be an adventurous exploration has become, in the book's own term, "flashpackerised." If you're the kind of traveler who is seeking "serious self-indulgence" as in Chiang Mai's Tamarind Village with its rooms ranging from 200-600 US$ a night, this is the guide for you. Away from the city, you're largely on your own. "You're unlikely to stay overnight as Lamphun is so close to Chiang Mai" it informs readers cozily, but offers one suggestion "in a pinch, the very capable Lamphun Will"--just in case you can't make it to Tamarind Village before nightfall.

Or if you're in Bangkok, looking for a quick getaway, Lonely Planet has your back, offering Silver Sand, "adding a needed slice of sophistication to simple Ko Samet." Well golly gee whiz, thank heaven for that. On the other hand, since the last edition, Ko Si Chang has lost all of its guesthouses--Lonely Planet has decided this is a stop for daytrippers, as is Ko Lan, off the coast of Pattaya. (So much for supporting small local entrepreneurs.)

Chaiya has disappeared as well, with its reknowned meditation retreat of Suan Mokkh given a scanty sidebar in the page for Surat Thani, and Korat's Prasat Phanom Wan has apparently gone forever. Khao Phra Wihan has almost dissolved, with the temple site itself  given one sentence--if this gorgeous spot reopens to tourists before the 15th edition comes out, Lonely Planet devotees will have to make do with forty-one words. Nice...

But that's okay, because this guide points them in the direction the Tourism Authority of Thailand has always wanted travelers to take--the circuit: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket. The bulk of the book is given over to these destinations, and spots within them that conform to Lonely Planet's new obligatory description, "achingly hip." If that's what you want, you'll be delighted. If it isn't, then do what we all did before Tony and Maureen Wheeler constructed the empire they've given over to the BBC--ask your friends, do some research, explore. And take comfort in knowing that when you get to some obscure corner, Lonely Planet will not be there--unless of course, it happens to be a border crossing. .


Tokyo Ern said...

Lonely Planet not so Lonely anymore.

janet brown said...

There's actually a sentence saying that some hip little spot they recommended in the Thai boondocks made the area less lonely--I was too stunned to note the page so couldn't find it when I wrote my little rant.