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Ph.D. student pens travel guide to Thailand

November 7, 2011
Thomas Rhoden

Thomas Rhoden visits a hill tribe village in Mae Hong Son.

It’s a cool concept: Turn Peace Corps volunteers into an army of travel authors.

That’s the aim of a new startup publishing house, Other Places Publishing, and NIU’s Thomas Rhoden, a doctoral student in political science, is one of its word-wielding soldiers.

For seven years, Rhoden made Thailand his second home, experiencing and exploring the country as a student, as a Peace Corps volunteer and finally as an aid worker on the Thai-Burma border. Expertly qualified to help travelers feel like locals, he recently penned a new travel guide titled, “Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand.”

“Staying in a country and learning the language provides you with a different point of view,” says the 31-year-old Dallas native who began working on his Ph.D. at NIU this semester.

With its lush jungle-covered mountains, elephant camps, age-old hill tribes and ancient ruins, the North of Thailand is an unforgettable travel experience.

Readers who traverse the pages of Rhoden’s book will melt under a traditional Thai message along the Nan River, stroll through the Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market, savor a Thai cooking class in Pai and ride along a 375-mile stretch of highway that snakes across rivers, valleys, mountaintops and hot springs. Laid-back cities like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai also offer a burgeoning restaurant and nightlife scene.

The region provided plenty to write about—so much so that Rhoden backed off the original concept of writing a travel guide for the entire country.

“The great thing about Thailand is you have beaches, mountains, jungles, ruins and lots of places to go trekking,” Rhoden says. “When you get bored with one area, you can visit another.”

Rhoden, who uses the pen name T.F. Rhoden, has authored four other Thailand-inspired books, including one book on the Thai language and another on Burmese, an edited collection of letters from Burmese refugees and a work of literary fiction titled, “The Village.”

He holds a degree in management, as well as an MBA, and has worked in the corporate world. Now, however, he hopes to establish a career in academia.

Rhoden chose to pursue his Ph.D. in political science at NIU because of the university’s world renowned Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the opportunity to study with Southeast Asia specialists such as Daniel Unger, Kikue Hamayotsu and Michael Buehler.

“There are a lot of professors associated with the center, it’s a good network and the library is excellent,” Rhoden says. “(NIU) has what I need to continue my research.”

Rhoden is planning to do his dissertation on refugee populations in Thailand. Undoubtedly, at some point, he will return to the country where his global education began—and where even the off-the-beaten-path places seem like home.