As Jody Houton tells it, his transformation into an expat in Thailand was completely accidental. Houton visited Phuket to decompress from a tiresome stint teaching English in South Korea. “While I was sitting on the sand at Kata beach… that the hustle and bustle and toil and trouble of my recent time in Korea began to feel like years, not mere days, away,” he explains in the book.
Several years later, Houton had renounced the “dreary streets of Manchester” for an ongoing career in Bangkok.
“I came for a holiday and stayed for the laid-back lifestyle,” he writes. “There have been times when I've wanted to tear my hair out with the 'Thai' way of doing things, but the anger and incredulity always pass and I remain, with a smile on my face and a Christmas tree and water pistol for Songkran in my cupboard.”
Houton's self-deprecating intro sets us up for the rest of his charming “geek's guide” to his adopted country. The author strikes an uncanny balance: in painting an intimate portrait of Thailand for outsiders, Houton combines a healthy respect for the subject matter with a wry detachment.
Friendly magazine-style format
Composed of incisive, witty essays on multiple subjects – and crammed with beautiful (sometimes strange) images – A Geek in Thailand seems made to be read in short bursts. The book's ingenious magazine-style format allows Houton to dig deep into the details without overwhelming the reader.
You'll flit from one subject to another before you know it. Ladyboys. The hierarchical Thai society. The dichotomy of Thai pop culture, both very Thai and very borrowed from abroad. An explainer of current political upheavals. And a visitor's guide to Bangkok and the rest of the country.
Sidebars allow Houton to flesh out entertaining digressions, but he puts them to their best use when interviewing expats and Thais to get their candid takes on their society.
Houton is particularly keen on introducing us to farang (foreigners) who've somehow learned to thrive in Thailand, like pizza king Bill Heinecke, khon dancer Benjamin Tardif and luk thung singer Christy Gibson.
Fascinating - if perilous - territory
After all, A Geek in Thailand isn't written for Thais, but for farang: the foreign tourist who wants to get beyond the superficialities of a few days' stay in Phuket or Bangkok.
Houton is the perfect inside man for the job, as he's both part of Thailand and yet detached from it. One of the thousands of farang who've settled in and called Thailand home, Houton's years of experience allow him to confidently decipher Thailand outsiders, all without falling into sentimentality or cynicism.
A Geek in Thailand is better than a guidebook: it's a roadmap of the Thai psyche, a territory that can be just as fascinating (and just as perilous) as the physical terrain explored by more run-of-the-mill travel publications.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. While it has not influenced this review, TripSavvy believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.