Want a Thailand reading list? Treat yourself to these 31 wonderful books about Thailand and either (A) set the scene before your trip, or (B) enjoy them while travelling.
The following books include ‘best book of your life’ literature, children’s books, Thai cookbooks, coffee table books, and some guilty-secret beach-book junk. Fire up your Kindle and let’s go…
TIP! For travel guide books, see the 29 best Thailand travel guides
*Jump down the page for 11 children’s books about Thailand.
The top 20 books about Thailand
#1. Must-read: Private Dancer
“Because of all of its local wisdom, Private Dancer ought to be made available to every tourist at port of entry.” (Bangkok Post)
Seriously boys, (and girls!), you need to read this book before going to Thailand.
#2. Fiction: The Narrow Road to the Deep North
2014 Man Booker Prize winner
“Captivating . . . This is a classic work of war fiction from a world-class writer . . . Nothing since Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has shaken me like this.” (Washington Post)
#3. My favourite: Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind
Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind, by Carol Hollinger
1960s expat Bangkok comes to life – and it’s insane. First published in 1965, this is a fascinating, biographical account of “[a]n American housewife’s honest love affair with the irrepressible people of Thailand.”
Amazon tends to have only secondhand copies of Mai Pen Rai (and the cover is pretty dated), but don’t let this dissuade you. It’s a wonderful book without equal. Really – you’ll thank me!
TIP! Need a Thailand travel guide for your trip? See my 29 favourite Thailand guide books. Or, to head even further back into Bangkok’s history, consider Tales of Old Bangkok: Travels in the Land of the White Elephant. It recalls Bangkok’s transformation from a “remote floating capital of a closed kingdom to its emergence as a bustling modern metropolis”.
#4. Fiction: The Orchid House: A Novel
“Atmospheric, heart-rending, and multilayered.” (Grazia UK)
#5. Fiction: The Beach
“On the surface it’s a fast-paced adventure novel; at another level it explores why we search for these utopias, be they mysterious lost continents or small island communes. (Amazon)
If you like a book to come to life before your very eyes, The Beach will be a well-timed read (particularly if you plan to visit the parts of Thailand where the movie was filmed).
#6 – #11. Fiction: Bangkok 8 + Royal Thai Detective series
“This thriller abounds with sensational elements-from homicidal vipers on speed to jade smuggling and the Thai sex trade-but listeners would be wise to follow the lead of Buddhist narrator Sonchai, who is more interested in the graceful acceptance of life’s puzzles than in their resolution.” (Publishers Weekly)
Bangkok 8 is Book 1 in a 6-part series. If you love addictive books or read quickly, the series comprises:
#7. Bangkok Tattoo
#8. Bangkok Haunts
#10. Vulture Peak
#11. The Bangkok Asset
#12. Mostly fiction: Fieldwork: A Novel
Fieldwork: A Novel, by Mischa Berlinski
“Mischa Berlinski originally intended to write an account of the real-life Lisu tribe of Thailand, but held scant interest in the project until he decided to fictionalize the natives and turned his research into a novel.” (Bookmarks Magazine)
#13. Stories: Sightseeing
Sightseeing, by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
“The Thailand of Westerners’ dreams shares space with a Thailand plagued by social and economic inequality in this auspicious debut collection of seven plaintive and luminous stories.” (Publishers Weekly)
#14. Fiction: Bangkok Bob and The Missing Mormon
Bangkok Bob and The Missing Mormon, by Stephen Leather
From the same author as Private Dancer (above), “even in the Land of Smiles, people can have murder on their minds.”
#15. Memoir + Mystery: Jim Thompson: The Unsolved Mystery
Jim Thompson: The Unsolved Mystery, by William Warren
“Explores the double legend of Thompson’s silk company and the unsolved case [of his disappearance].” (The New Yorker)
#16. Chick lit: Deep Blue Sea
“[A] big juicy holiday read with enough sexual tension – unresolved and otherwise – to keep you gripped”. (Marie-Claire)
TIP! Need an insanely addictive beach book? These 10 books were so good I skipped the in-flight movies.
#17. Non-Fiction: Thailand Confidential
“After over a decade in the country, Hopkins knows and loves his subject dearly — that much is obvious — and his vivid portrait projects that love from every page.” (Rolling Stone)
#18. Short stories: Thai Lottery… and Other Stories from Pattaya
As in Private Dancer, we’re back in the realm of bar girls and Thailand’s seedy underbelly. And it’s fascinating stuff. In sum, it’s a (mostly) interesting collection of stories, written with insight and affection. The author knows his subject and writes ‘Tinglish’ voices (Thai mixed with English) with total accuracy.
#19. Non-fiction: Touch the Dragon: A Thai Journal
“Through vivid imagery, humour and careful observation of the families, school friends and Buddhist rituals around her, Connelly brings to life the small village in northern Thailand where she stayed for a year.” (Amazon)
#20. Facts and Fascination: A Geek in Thailand
“Jody Houton’s pleasant and insightful book surfs through the quirky, the profound and the plainly inexplicable culture hot points of Thailand.” (Bangkok Post)
More Thailand questions?
11 children’s books about Thailand
If bedtime stories are part of your daily routine, consider any of the following kids’ books about Thailand…
#1. Thai language: Thai For Kids Pictionary
#2. Children’s Thailand guide book: Kids’ Travel Guides – Thailand
#3. Thailand colouring book: Thai Decorative Designs
#4. Ages 3-7: Peek! A Thai Hide-and-Seek
#5. Ages 3-7: Tua and the Elephant
#6. Ages 4-8: Hush! A Thai Lullaby
Caldecott Honor Book
#7. Ages 4-8: The Umbrella Queen
#8. Ages 4-12: Toy is from Thailand
#9. Ages 5+: Molly and the Magic Suitcase
#10. Ages 5-8: B is for Bangkok
#11. Ages 6-9: Mystery of the Golden Temple
Coming to Thailand with children?
#1. Your ultimate guide to Koh Samui with kids includes lots of safety and packing tips useful for any beach destination in Thailand.
#2. 10+ hours of flying in your family’s future? – these 12 tips for long flights with kids might help get you through it (without sedation).
There’s an anti-dote to leaving Thailand and it’s David Thompson Thai cookbooks. Isn’t it sad to board a plane leaving Samui and wave the island goodbye? For us, it usually means going somewhere a lot less friendly and not very warm. As we readjust to wearing the uniform of the real world (socks, trousers, coats…*sigh*), we miss Thai food the most. Not culture shock, but curry shock. To rehabilitate through such dark days, we turn to these two brilliant Thai cookbooks…
#1. Thai Food, by David Thompson
Hot pink, dissected with a lime green ribbon, the book cheers you up before you begin. Creatively named “Thai Food”, it’s THE Thai cookbook for any home-based ‘OMG-I-Miss-Thai-Food’ Rehabilitation Project. It’s so good, in fact, that The Guardian included it on its best food books of the last decade – amongst the likes of Nigel Slater and Anthony Bourdain. Indeed, Thai Food, is not only bright pink (solid choice) but a How Not To Starve and Be Sad manual whenever we have to leave Thailand. Proof of its superb-ness? Everything we’ve ever made from it has been delicious – and we are not skilled cooks.
#2. Thai Street Food, by David Thompson
Thompson teaches Thai culinary history to Thai students and his expertise resonates throughout this book. The hardcover book is a tome. Honestly, we can barely lift it. Yet it could sit alternately on your kitchen counter or coffee table; pages of gorgeous food photography and a complete Thai history complete a fascinating book. Within, photos complement recipes more than ever possible in a ‘kitchen-sized’ cookbook. In fact, it’s so lovely that we recommended this last-a-lifetime book as a great destination wedding gift for Thailand – especially suited to a foodie couple.
David Thompson is a god to us. Unlike other Thai cookbooks we’ve tried, his books hold our farang (foreign) hands and helps us prepare dishes that taste, to us, exactly as they should. You’ll really surprise yourself as you work through Chef Thompson’s many curry and soup dishes, snacks, fish courses and the obligatory Pad Thai.
We can’t recommend Chef Thompson’s books highly enough – whether we’d ever have the confidence to serve our creations to Thai people is another story. Get ready to impress yourself!
Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand (U.S. version) – by “one of the leading American voices on Thai cooking”.
Coffee table books about Thailand
An Illustrated History of Thailand – hardcover
Images of Bangkok – “The perfect introduction for those keen on a visit to Bangkok, and an excellent keepsake for tourists, locals and anyone with an eye for culture”.
The Sustainable Asian House: Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines (U.S. version) – features 27 eco houses, hardcover.
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