Thailand: travel books to read before you goFrom a collection of essays by a Rolling Stone journalist who defected to Thailand to the cult adventure novel that launched a million backpacks, the best Thai travel reads are as varied as they are inspiring, thrilling, insightful and baffling. Here’s nine of the best books worth cramming into your carry-on.
Bangkok Days, by Lawrence Osborne (2009)
After arriving in Bangkok in urgent need of an affordable dentist, Osborne finds it is a good place to loiter a while. Bangkok Days explores the theme of transformation, from sex change operations to the desire for a new beginning that underlines the lives of the foreigners Osborne meets who have made Bangkok their home. Without ignoring Bangkok’s seedier side, he finds beauty in every corner of the city.
Fieldwork, by Mischa Berlinski (2008)
A novel in which Berlinski appears as the character of a young American journalist who, after following his girlfriend to Chiang Mai, investigates the suicide of an anthropologist serving a 50 year sentence for the murder of a missionary in a remote fictional hill-tribe village. The author weaves in research originally intended for a non-fictional account of the conversion of the Lisu ethnic group to Christianity.
Sightseeing, by Rattawut Lapcharoensap (2005)
A collection of short stories in which the author, who was born in Chicago but grew up in Bangkok, explores tensions in modern day Thailand, including the sometimes uneasy relationship between tourists and locals. The youthful innocence and optimism of the teenage narrators adds a poignancy to the tales which take place against a backdrop of gangs, cockfights, shantytowns, beaches and mango trees.
Thailand Confidential, by Jerry Hopkins (2005)
A collection of essays by former Rolling Stone journalist Hopkins, who first came to Thailand as a tourist in the 1980s and ended up a permanent resident, that depict both what visitors most love about Thailand and much of what they don’t.
Bangkok 8, by John Burdett (2004)
On the surface this book is a whodunit thriller that opens with the gruesome murder (by snake) of a US marine. Narrated by police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, the son of a Thai bar girl and an American soldier, it is the voice of Sonchai that draws the reader into a deeper understanding of Thai Buddhist way of thinking and acceptance of life’s seemingly illogical twists and turns.
The Beach, by Alex Garland (1998)
The essential Thailand beach read about an English backpacker in search of an undiscovered paradise away from commercialised tourism who finds apparent utopia on a secluded island off the coast of Ko Samui. The 2000 film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio was mostly filmed, however, on the Ko Phi-Phi islands off Thailand’s Andaman coast.
Jasmine Nights, by SP Somtow (1995)
A 12-year-old boy who has lived a sheltered life with his three eccentric aunts in an upper class family compound in 1960s Bangkok uses classical fiction to escape the fake, flawed world he inhabits while waiting to start school at Eton.
Touch the Dragon, by Karen Connelly (1992)
The diary of a 17-year-old Canadian who spends her final year of high school in a small village in northern Thailand as part of an exchange programme. Initially homesick and frustrated by local customs, Connelly later becomes so accustomed to her new way of life that the idea of returning to Canada alarms her.
Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind, by Carol Hollinger (1965)
After moving to Bangkok with her government employee husband, American housewife Carol Hollinger slowly engages with Thai life, finding work as an English teacher, enjoying local market delicacies and coming to understand the meaning of mai pen rai. More than 50 years on, the essence of Hollinger’s observations still rings true today.
This article was originally published in October 2010, and updated by Isabel Albiston in July 2015.
From: Lonely Planet