Our guest today is a travel writing legend. Joe Cummings has been living and working in Southeast Asia for decades. He’s authored scores of travel guidebooks and a host of specialty-focus books on everything from Buddhist Stupas in Asia to traditional Thai tattoos. He’s perhaps best known for being the original Lonely Planet Thailand guidebook writer. He is also an accomplished guitar player and all around nice guy. If you’re looking for someone who knows a ton about Southeast Asia – Joe Cummings is your man.

Joe with a tattoo master

Scott: My first guidebooks were the Japan, Southeast Asia, and Australia Lonely Planet books for a one-year trip I was doing as a backpacker back in 1993. I then bought Lonely Planet books for my trip to South America in 1995 and pretty much for most trips since. I tried a couple other brands but always found I liked Lonely Planet best.

Trevor: I’m on the other side of the fence here. My first guidebook was for Bali when I went in 1996. I still have that book. It was a Rough Guide, which I’ve always respected. But after I left Bali on that trip, I just ripped maps out of whatever secondhand books I found. I was more interested in word of mouth advice and exploration than guidebooks. Once I got into the business, I developed more respect for certain guides, but never really cared for the Lonely Planet.

Scott: I haven’t bought a travel guidebook in many years – relying more on the internet and resources I find online. But I do miss the comprehensiveness of having everything in one unit, especially the deep history and background of a destination that a guidebook seems to be able to deliver.

It surprises me that no company has yet to solve the digital guidebook. They just don’t lend themselves to easy access of info – flipping to one section or another, marking things, turning pages like a traditional guidebook.

Trevor: Yeah, the online comprehensive guide still eludes us. I think we were developing a great product, but sadly all the money goes into bad ideas I guess. I’m still a bit more on the word of mouth and adventure strategy. All you really need is Google maps, and even then you need to take it with a grain of salt. Didn’t we do an episode all about guidebooks? (Episode 42: Travel Guides, Online Resources, and Mobile Apps). But we’ve never had Joe Cummings on before.

Today’s Guest: Joe Cummings

Joe chatting with a tattoo master

Scott: We’ve enjoyed our guest’s books for many years. From my first Thailand Lonely Planet book to Lanna Renaissance and a favorite, Buddhist Stupas of Asia, Joe’s writing and scope of knowledge are truly impressive. Let’s get right into it and bring on the man himself, Joe Cummings. Thanks for joining us today Joe.

To hear Joe Cummings’ answer the following questions,

listen to Episode 63 on SoundCloud or iTunes Now!

  • Before we get into your new book, The Hunt, let’s go back to the beginning of your time in Southeast Asia. What first brought you to Thailand?
  • How did you originally start writing guidebooks?
  • What were those early years writing like?
  • How has the guidebook writing scene changed in the years you’ve been at it?
  • In the last number of years you’ve been focusing more on specialty subject books like northern Thai culture and style with Lanna Renaissance and traditional Thai tattoos – Sak Yant – with Sacred Tattoos of Thailand. What led you to get into the guidebook writing game again with The Hunt?
  • I noticed there are just short of 30 The Hunt city titles – why did they decide to take on Bangkok?
  • What makes The Hunt unique?
  • Did you write this book for a certain demographic? Is the brand targeted towards a certain type of traveler?
  • How do you find the travel writing book process has changed? More online research and less wandering around? Or just more personal experience and networking than exploration and discovery?
  • How would The Hunt make a visitor’s trip to Bangkok different?
  • What do you most like about the book?
  • Is there a future for printed travel guidebooks?
  • While we have you here, we’d love to hear a bit about another one of your semi-recent books, Sacred Tattoos of Thailand.
  • What led to your interest in traditional Thai tattoos?
  • At what point did you realize you wanted to write an entire book about them?
  • What are a couple of the more interesting aspects of traditional Thai tattoos for people who don’t know much about them?
  • Do you have a Thai tattoo?
  • What’s next for Joe Cummings?

The Hunt

About The Hunt – The sprawling metropolis of Bangkok has so much more to see than grand temples. To help you experience the Thai capital the way the locals do, The HUNT team has donned their curatorial colored glasses and carefully selected 100 or so unique, authentic local businesses that range from brand spankin’ new to deeply patinaed and way off the beaten path, funky and unexpected to chic and shiny. Over the last decade, our guides have become the go-to source for a worldwide community of locals and travelers who seek out genuine, intriguing independent businesses.

See a Photo Gallery of pictures from this episode!

About our guest: 

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