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10 Best Books About Thailand To Read

These books about Thailand, a land of vibrant contrasts, beckon you into the country’s intoxicating blend of rich cultural heritage, breathtaking landscapes, and a unique tapestry of traditions.

From the bustling city of Bangkok to the serene shores of its tropical islands, Thailand unfolds as a captivating novel, each chapter revealing a new facet of its enchanting narrative.


Books About Thailand

On a personal note, I have been visiting Thailand regularly since 1998 and have lived in Bangkok and Chiang Mai for several years. I have read many books about Thailand, but if you just want to pick a few to read before a trip there then this a selection of some of the best to read.

It is a varied list of topics and themes that cover many different aspects of the country. I’m sure you will find one that suits your tastes!


Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad

Bangkok Wakes to Rain is a novel written by Pitchaya Sudbanthad. Published in 2019, the book weaves together multiple narratives across time, exploring the interconnected lives of characters in Bangkok, Thailand.

The novel spans from the late 19th century to the near future, capturing the changes in the city and the lives of its inhabitants over the years.

The title itself suggests a sense of awakening and renewal, and it reflects the themes of change, memory, and the passage of time that are central to the novel.

Sudbanthad’s work has been praised for its lyrical prose and its rich portrayal of both the physical landscape of Bangkok and the emotional landscapes of its characters.

Buy it on Amazon.

Bangkok 8 by John Burdett

Bangkok 8 is a crime novel published in 2003, it is the first book in the Sonchai Jitpleecheep series. The story is set in Bangkok, Thailand, and follows Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, a half-Thai, half-American police detective, as he investigates the murder of a Marine named Sergeant William Bradley.

The novel is known for its unique blend of crime fiction, noir, and elements of Thai culture and spirituality. Sonchai, the protagonist, provides a distinctive perspective as a devout Buddhist who often finds himself entangled in the darker aspects of Bangkok’s society.

Bangkok 8 has been praised for its vivid portrayal of the city, its exploration of cultural and social issues, and its engaging and gritty narrative. The book’s success led to the creation of a series featuring Detective Sonchai in subsequent novels by John Burdett.

On a personal note, this is my favourite book about Bangkok and one of the best books about Thailand to get an insight into life in the city.

Buy it on Amazon.

The Beach by Alex Garland

The Beach was published in 1996 and the story is centred around a young traveller named Richard, who, while in Bangkok, hears about a hidden paradise in Thailand. Intrigued, he sets out on a quest to find this mysterious beach, said to be a pristine, untouched paradise.

The novel explores themes of adventure, escapism, and the impact of tourism on local cultures and environments. As Richard discovers the hidden beach, he becomes part of a community with its own set of rules and challenges. The story takes a darker turn as the idyllic setting is revealed to have its secrets and complexities.

The Beach was well-received for its exploration of the backpacker culture, the pursuit of utopia, and the consequences of seeking a perfect escape.

I read this book in 1998 on my first backpacking trip to Thailand and loved it! I can easily say it’s one of my favourite books about Thailand.

Buy it on Amazon.

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Sightseeing is a collection of short stories by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, published in 2005. The author, a Thai-American writer, explores various aspects of contemporary life in Thailand through these interconnected short stories. The collection delves into the complexities of Thai culture, family relationships, and the impact of globalization on the country.

The stories in “Sightseeing” are often set against the backdrop of Thailand’s social and economic changes, offering a nuanced and vivid portrayal of the people and places in the rapidly evolving society.

Lapcharoensap’s writing has been praised for its insight into the human condition and its ability to capture the intricate dynamics of family and community.

The collection includes stories such as “Farangs,” which examines the interactions between locals and foreign tourists, and “Cockfighter,” which explores the world of illegal cockfighting. Each story provides a glimpse into different facets of Thai life, presenting a mosaic of experiences.

Buy it on Amazon.

Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon

Anna and the King of Siam was first published in 1944 and is a fictional account based on the real-life experiences of Anna Leonowens, an Englishwoman who served as a governess to the children of King Mongkut (Rama IV) of Siam (now Thailand) in the 1860s.

Anna Leonowens’ memoirs inspired Margaret Landon’s novel. The story depicts Anna’s time at the court of King Mongkut and her interactions with the royal family. The narrative explores cultural differences, traditions, and the challenges faced by Anna as she tries to navigate the complex and sometimes contradictory world of the Siamese court.

The novel was later adapted into a highly successful stage musical titled “The King and I,” which premiered on Broadway in 1951 and has been adapted into several films and television productions. The musical, like the book, tells the story of the relationship between Anna and King Mongkut and explores themes of East-West cultural exchange and understanding.

It’s worth noting that while “Anna and the King of Siam” is inspired by historical events, it is a fictionalized account, and some aspects of the narrative may differ from the actual historical record.

Buy it on Amazon.

A History of Thailand by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit

A History of Thailand is one of the best books about Thailand for its history. It was written by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit and published in 2005. The book provides a comprehensive overview of the history of Thailand, covering various periods and events from ancient times to the present day.

Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit are historians who have contributed significantly to the understanding of Thai history and society. Their work delves into the political, social, and economic aspects of Thailand, offering insights into the country’s development and its interactions with the wider world.

The book is known for its accessible style and thorough research. It covers key historical events, cultural developments, and political changes, making it a valuable resource for both academic readers and general audiences interested in Thailand’s history.

If you want to get a serious history lesson on Thailand then this is one of the best books to read for that.

Buy it on Amazon.

The Damage Done: Twelve Years of Hell in a Bangkok Prison by Warren Fellows

The Damage Done: Twelve Years of Hell in a Bangkok Prison is a memoir written by Warren Fellows, an Australian who was arrested in Thailand in 1978 for attempting to smuggle heroin. The book recounts Fellows’ harrowing experiences during his twelve-year imprisonment in the notorious Bang Kwang Central Prison in Bangkok.

Fellows describes the brutal conditions of the prison, including overcrowded cells, unsanitary living conditions, and the prevalence of violence among inmates. The book provides a firsthand account of the physical and psychological toll of long-term incarceration in a foreign prison system.

Throughout the narrative, Fellows reflects on his actions that led to his imprisonment and the impact it had on his life. He details the challenges he faced, such as adapting to the harsh environment, dealing with corrupt prison guards, and navigating the complex social hierarchy among inmates.

The Damage Done sheds light on the human rights abuses within the Thai prison system and serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of involvement in the drug trade.

It has been praised for its raw and honest portrayal of the author’s experiences and has become a notable work in the genre of prison literature and one of the best books about Thailand. Just be aware it’s not easy reading!

Jasmine Nights by S.P. Somtow

Jasmine Nights is a novel written by S.P. Somtow, a Thai-American author and composer. The book, published in 1995, is a coming-of-age story set in 1960s Thailand. It explores themes of identity, cultural clashes, and the impact of political and social changes on individuals and families.

The protagonist of “Jasmine Nights” is a young boy named Little Frog, who is part Thai and part Western. The story follows his experiences as he navigates the complexities of his cultural heritage, family dynamics, and the political turmoil of the time.

S.P. Somtow, also known as Somtow Sucharitkul, is a versatile artist who has made contributions to both literature and music. “Jasmine Nights” is well-regarded for its evocative writing and its portrayal of the cultural and political landscape of 1960s Thailand.

Buy it on Amazon.

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture by Philip Cornwel-Smith

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture is a book written by Philip Cornwel-Smith, an English author and long-time resident of Thailand. Published in 2004, the book explores various aspects of Thai popular culture, providing insights into the everyday life of the Thai people.

“Very Thai” covers a wide range of topics, including street food, traditional and modern clothing, religious practices, folk art, language, and more. The book aims to capture the essence of Thailand’s unique and vibrant popular culture, shedding light on the elements that define the country beyond its well-known tourist attractions.

Philip Cornwel-Smith’s approach is observational and cultural, offering you a glimpse into the subtleties and nuances of Thai society. The book is known for its engaging writing style, rich photography, and the depth with which it explores the often-overlooked aspects of daily life in Thailand.

Buy it on Amazon.

Private Dance by Stephen Leather

Private Dancer was a bestseller in Thailand. Written by Stephen Leather in 2005 it explores the seedier underbelly of Bangkok.

Pete wanders into a Bangkok go-go bar and meets the love of his life. Joy is young, stunning, and a pole dancer. In a roller-coaster ride of sex, drugs, and deception, Pete discovers that his own very private dancer is not all she claims to be.

Far from being the love of his life, Joy is his nightmare!

Buy it on Amazon.


One Extra…

Lonely Planet Thailand

Just adding one more at the end here that’s not part of the “10 best books about Thailand” list, but is one of the best travel guidebooks for Thailand.

If you want to get some good research in on the practical matters of travelling in Thailand then this is a great book to get for that.

Buy it on Amazon.


Thailand

Like I said at the beginning of the post, there have been many excellent books about Thailand that capture its rich cultural tapestry, history, and contemporary issues, and although there are many to read, this is a selection of some of the best.

For more on Thailand have a read of the 10 best documentaries about Thailand to watch.


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