It’s always fun to read books about or set in the country you’re looking to travel to – or are already travelling it. And it can add a real sense of understanding when you’re surrounded by the sights and scents of the very place that the author is writing about.
So, what books should be on your list to either inspire or add colour to a travel adventure in Thailand?
At first glance it can feel as if there’s a dearth of great books to accompany a trip to Thailand, unless your a fan of dubious prison memoirs or ‘slightly’ cliched mean street crime novels set in Bangkok. However, dig a little deeper and there’s a decent range of both fact and fiction – and sometimes some ‘faction’! – to get stuck into.
Here’s our list of books to get stuck into for anyone thinking of travelling in Thailand or already enjoying an adventure in the country
The Beach – Alex Garland
At the top of every travellers backpack throughout the late 90’s and still a huge hit with people on the road here. The story of everyone’s dream (finding that perfect ‘secret’ beach) and how it goes wrong. You’ve probably seen the film with Leonardo but like most of these things, the book is much better and gives a great insight into the travellers ‘vibe’ of the 80’s and 90’s in Thailand.
From the backpacker hub of Khao San Road to the islands in the South, a cracking read and whilst it could really be set anywhere it is of course the book that made the film make Koh Phi Phi and Maya Bay such a popular place to visit (even if the unwitting result was a serious case of over-tourism at Maya Bay).
Perfect ‘beach’ reading – apologies, we couldn’t resist it!
Slithering South – Steve Van Beek
Far less well known than The Beach but this is the book that should have been at the top of everyone’s backpack and reading list. One of the best travel books / travelogue’s ever written about Thailand. Following the author on his travels down the Ping river and recounting the people he meets and the real journey he experiences. Best summed up by the authors own quote:
“What had begun as a journey about a river, became a journey about people. Although I often shunned them, they had welcomed me with overwhelming generosity. Most moving was that those who had the least, shared the most. And when I would later return to their villages I would be welcomed as an old friend”
An absolute must for anyone interested in full on travel, rural Thailand and what makes up the heart and soul of this fascinating country.
Bangkok: Then and Now – Steve Van Beek
A change of pace and a coffee table book rather than a novel for your travels. And yes, we do love Steve Van Beek and everything he’s written.
A superb pictorial ‘history’ of one of the greatest cities on Earth – Bangkok. Van Beek takes a series of photos from 100 years ago (or at least 100 years ago from when the book was put together) and spent months tracking down the exact location and angle of each and taking new photos from ‘today’. He then puts together the story behind the changes that have taken place giving perhaps the best understanding of just how much Bangkok has changed in recent decades.
A superb book and one only wishes every city could produce a work like this. Fascinating and a book you can keep coming back to again and again.
Four Reigns – Kukrit Pramoj
A great saga of a novel translated from Thai telling the tale of one woman’s life both inside and outside the palaces of Bangok from the 1890’s through to the 1940’s. Starting during the absolute monarchy and working through all the changes to Thailand becoming a constitutional monarchy, with revolutions and Thailand becoming more open to foreign contact this novel is a great insight into Thailand during that period and a classic both in Thai and in English. Not quite the light read of The Beach but well worth the time for the insight it gives into a period not often covered.
A History of Thailand – Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit
Staying with the slightly ‘heavier’ reads, this is a fantastic book detailing the last 300 years or so of Thai history. Taking us from a country that was largely forests and jungle through to the development of villages and rice fields and then onto the development of the more urban society as it is today. The change Thailand has seen over this period is immense and this book gives a great background and understanding of how and why Thailand has got to where it is now. A must read for anyone keen to get a real insight into the fascinating ‘recent’ history of the country.
Next Life in The Afternoon – Carl Weaver
Back to a lighter read this is a great book about one’s man journey to Thailand to become a monk (quickly not happening) and subsequent travels throughout the countryside. A great insight into Thai life and his own personal journey throughout his travels. A nice read and well worth the time.
The Damage Done – Warren Fellow
We’re not usually big fans of the whole ‘my life in a hell hole prison’ genre but we probably had to put one of them in this list and this is probably the best and benefits greatly from the author not asking or expecting the readers sympathy. A ‘classic’ tale of drug smuggling, capture and a very tough 12 years in one of Bangkok’s most notorious prisons this is the book to read a) to put you off going anywhere near drugs in Thailand and b) if tough prison memoirs are your ‘thing’!
So, there you go. A few books to get your started and to keep you company on your travels in Thailand. Let us know what you think of them when you join us for a Tuk Tuk Adventure!