For many years my favourite guidebook has been the Lonely Planet. This has always been my first choice for its comprehensive look at tourist attractions in just about any country in the world. In Thailand, the person who is most associated with guidebooks is Joe Cummings whose name is well-known among backpackers. Although Joe no longer writes the Thailand edition, he still loves Thailand so much that he lives here in Northern Thailand. He wrote the first Lonely Planet Thailand edition back in 1982. We have now just seen the release of the 13th edition written by China Williams. However, although the book is now more than double in size, they have decided for the first time to remove Samut Prakan Province from its contents.
These days, there at least half a dozen major guidebooks about Thailand. We are spoiled for choice. It is not always easy deciding which ones to buy for your trip. One of the best things I have liked about the Lonely Planet books are the maps. This is often invaluable when you visit places that are not on the usual tourist trails. And that is where the strength of this franchise lies. They didn’t just give you the mainstream tourist attractions. They helped you discover new places. Joe Cummings is well-known for doing this for Thailand. My personal benchmark for choosing a good guidebook for Thailand is to see whether it had any content for Samut Prakan. This is a small province near Bangkok with a number of worthwhile attractions. If a guidebook covered this province then I knew that it would be comprehensive and well worth buying.
Lonely Planet used to have two full pages on Samut Prakan Province. It covered about four or five major attractions and had information such as getting there and away, hotels and places to eat. Over the years this was reduced down to less than a page. But, there was still a chapter on our province. The only other guidebook that came anywhere close to this was the Moon Handbook for Thailand by Carl Parkes. In August 2009, Lonely Planet finally decided to remove Samut Prakan as a chapter. They now list only two of its major attractions in the Bangkok section. These are The Erawan Museum and Ancient Siam (although they still call it Ancient City despite the name change a year ago). There is no longer any mention of the Crocodile Farm which is not only the largest of its kind in Thailand, but it is also in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest captive crocodile in the world.
I can understand why they had to cut down. Joe Cummings once told me that the Lonely Planet book had reached its limit. Any new attractions would be included at the expense of other locations that would have to be removed. The 8th edition had a staggering 1,030 pages and was pretty heavy too. It wasn’t the kind of thing that you would be happy to carry around in your backpack. These days they are averaging about 800 or so pages per edition. The paper that they use also seems to be a lot lighter. Another major change for them is the release of regional guidebooks such as for Bangkok and Chiang Mai and also for specialist subjects such as Beaches and Islands and Scuba Diving. This allowed them to give us more comprehensive information. Another exciting innovation from them was the release of the e-books. This allows you to “pick and mix” and just buy the chapters that you wanted for as little as $2 each.
I personally feel that Samut Prakan Province deserves a place in the guidebooks. I know that we are very close to Bangkok and to many people we just look like a sprawling extension. However, as we are often overlooked, you will find that if you come here you will hardly see any other foreigner. The festivals and other events are more authentic and haven’t been created just for foreign tourists. You will also find the local people to be very friendly as they don’t often meet foreigners. If you attend an event you might find yourself being treated as a visiting VIP. Maybe even as an ambassador from your country. You will be urged to go to the front to take pictures and maybe even invited to sit next to the governor or city mayor. It has happened to me a number of times over the years. However, you need to come sooner rather than later. I have been writing about Samut Prakan on www.paknam.com for over ten years now and partially as a consequence, the number of independent visitors has started to pick up. This situation will change even more once the Sky Train reaches us in about ten years.